Teaching Infographics

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We’ll be in New York on March 24-25 with our well received workshop on principles of infographics and data visualization. How is it different, and what do our participants learn?

Infographics and data visualization have experienced significant change since we started 5W Infographics back in 2001. And certainly since we published our very first infographics, which takes us all the way to the late 80s! If you were thinking of infographics  and dataviz as a new field, you may want to think again.

Some of these changes are profound, in good and bad ways, and they are a big part of the reason why at 5W Academy (our educational branch) we think infographics and dataviz education are important precisely now.

Individuals and corporations have now access to massive public and private data sets, and new software applications allow us to visualize them. But that’s not the same as having the ability to a find relevant story behind the data, and the skill to visualize and design it efficiently.

We also see countless of unfortunate examples of infographics that are little more than empty decorative designs around a few numbers, the product of marketing departments with the only purpose of making content viral. It’s just pretty clickbait that gives a bad name to infographics. These have become so pervasive that sadly, many people think of that type of content first when they think of “infographics”, a trendy word now. But in nearly all cases they offer absolutely nothing in terms of revealing insightful patterns and trends behind numerical or special information.

Data visualization is not new. It’s actually been around us for hundred of years, and many of the principles behind it stand the pass of time. It’s good to look back at some of them.

At 5W we started working with infographics in the field of journalism, where focus and accuracy are paramount. During long years as staff members for newspapers like El Mundo (one of the European infographics pioneers) and The New York Times, or magazines such as Fortune and National Geographic, we were trained to seek first and foremost data sets and information that was both accurate and relevant to our readers. To find focus and to visualize that content in a visual way through charts, maps, and illustrated infographics that would offer new visual insights for our readers. With stiff competition for space in the news pages, you need to prove you can inform (not decorate) in a way neither the best writers or photographers can with the tools of their craft alone.

Today it often seems like the word “infographics” has been hijacked by marketers with inadequate understanding of data visualization principles and sometimes dubious or biased agendas; and often the term “data visualization” or dataviz has been appropriated by software wizards and digital designers more fascinated by the fact they can visualize large amounts of data than by how they can extract and explain a revealing story by visualizing the core message behind it. The result is cool but empty data art that tries to pass as information or incomprehensible “data dumps” that look fascinating but lacks proper editing and design basics and just confuse anyone with an honest intent of making sense of it.

The purpose of our workshop is to explain the principles that enable us to create powerful visual stories that illuminate concepts for readers in engaging ways. And to practice them hands-on. We haven’t found a workshop that looks at all the different tools of infographics and dataviz at the same time: the Do’s and Dont’s of plotting numbers and statistics with charts; geographic and thematic cartography; illustrations and pictograms; design, hierarchy and color; and exploring creativity with those tools.

In our next post we’ll look in detail at the content and schedule of the two-day workshop.

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