Infographics as part of journalism

I’m currently enjoying browsing through ‘The Best American Infographics 2014’, introduced by Nate Silver (Mariner Books).

I’m appreciating the way that each artist has put together information in an accessible and quickly understandable way. Many of the infographics are about topics that wouldn’t normally capture my attention, but put together in this volume they’re captivating me.

My current favourites are the overview of email’s evolution, the depiction of caffeine content in drinks, the coloured map showing racial distribution in the USA, and a colour chart that summarises key world issues without any need to understand percentages. My children are most impressed by the graphic showing the four most beautiful soccer goals. And I love the map of a local neighbourhood drawn from a cat’s perspective.

There are some infographics in the volume that don’t work for me – like the visual recipes and the existential calendar designed to help with choosing a job. They probably don’t work for me because I’m someone who thinks with words (plus lists and questions), rather than with images and colours.

In his introduction, Silver links infographics, and information design more broadly, with journalism. This is a link that I particularly appreciate.

People often ask me why I describe my work as information design, when I’m a writer not a graphic designer. Silver captures the answer: infographics and journalism are both about making information accessible to people. And making information accessible is the task of information design. For me, the term information design can comfortably cover all of the tasks involved in designing information – whether with words, with graphics, or with a combination of both.

There’s one thing very odd about ‘The Best American Infographics 2014’. It’s a beautifully presented book – absolutely gorgeous to browse through. But the descriptions about each infographic are enormously difficult to read. They’re printed in silver (on either a white or black background). Silver simply isn’t a colour that contrasts well with the page, no matter what colour that page is (though the black background makes for easier reading than the white). It’s particularly difficult to read on a bright, sunny, summer day in Brisbane!

Maybe the difficult-to-read, silver descriptions actually achieve their aim. I’m not meant to read them at all. I’m meant to enjoy the infographics for what they are.