I have an entire board on Pinterest dedicated to infographics. They’re beautiful, carefully crafted pieces of information, to make it easier to digest. We should love them! It’s like reading a picture book for adults. However the increasing surge in infographics in recent years has caused us to be bombarded by information we otherwise wouldn’t really care about. But they looked cool, right? At first, we believed them. Sometimes startling pieces of information rapidly going viral up and down Twitter and Facebook feeds, it would spark public astonishment: “HOW COULD THIS BE? HOW DID WE NOT KNOW?!” And then we all lived in an ideal world where we would change whatever startling habits were going to give us cancer tomorrow, and then forget about it 5 minutes later.
Now, we seem so jaded by the astonishing information, that we tend to not even believe it anymore. Today, an infographic posted on FastCo. caught my attention, Red Meat is Killing Us. I’m always curious about things dealing with food, since it is my favorite thing in the world and all, so naturally I clicked on it. I read through these astronomical numbers (and despite being vegan and patting myself on the back for not adding to the statistic) and I didn’t wholeheartedly believe what it was telling me. It was just too crazy, right?
I read through the comments on the post. And there was a definite backlash on this graphic:
“The graphics are confusing, misleading and a little too retro.”
“I’m a vegetarian and even I found this completely offensive. Scare tactics.”
“This infographic is awful. Please don’t post anymore like this. It’s misleading. Fast Co, you should know better.”
And my personal favorite, “Seems like a pretty hysterical piece assembled very likely by a flaming vegan.”
The author responded to these comments with a link to a New York Times article where the information had come from.
I clicked the link, read through the article, and I felt at ease about the information. But, why? Why do we suddenly not trust these beautiful displays of information in exchange for just reading them first hand? The commenters on the original FastCo. post seem to feel that the information was somehow skewed based on the designers’ possible personal beliefs. Even when infographics have links, cited sources, and all of the other credentials that published news sources do, we still do not trust them as much. Is it because of the fact that it is designed that we feel that another person’s hands have been stirring up the information pot? Possibly. Or could it be that we just don’t want the information laid out so easily if it is things that we don’t necessarily want to digest? As designers, our first priority is to communicate information clearly and effectively. How can we elevate infographics to be back to their respectable, trustworthy glory days without alienating our viewers in the process?