The UX of Infographics

There are three kinds of infographics.

  1. Ugly and useless
  2. Pretty and useless
  3. Useful

A website is like a big infographic.  It is usually filled with noise and chatter and happy talk.  Usually, it written for the author or author’s boss, not for you.  Over and over again, I see infographics on the web that are terrible.  Fast Company has a series of great infographics, which are the exceptions.

What should a great infographic do?
Simple: It should make someone go, “Oh!  I didn’t realize that!”   Possibly they should say, “Oh, now I get it!”

Why not just write down the point in plain text?
No one reads the copy on a website.  They just skim.  Look at the homepage of Intuit.com.  If you put a sentence/link in that garble of text at the bottom that said, “We are giving away $100 to the first person to click this link”, you would have to wait for quite some time.  Sure, there are some people who read, but they are the tiny minority.  You need a way to communicate knowing that the user only skims text.

Enter the Infographic
People can not help but absorb graphical information. For example:  At TurboTax, we tested a massive amount of pictures of people to figure out what worked best to entice people to buy.  The answer?  The box (right) and it wasn’t even close.  People saw the box and made a mental connection.  They said, “Yes!  That is the thing I want.  I want to do my taxes.”  Happy people were useless, but the box was perfect.  Information was conveyed better with the box than with any amount of text.

My Best Infographic
At Marketo, I had a customer who was irate. (I won’t point fingers, but she knows who she is.) The problem was that she didn’t understand what Marketo did (Marketing Automation).  No amount of me explaining made her get it.  So I sat down and made a quick chart to show her what we did.   Click to see larger version.

The results were immediate and fantastic.  She changed her tune and was happy with the product.  She understood what we did and why it was great.  Infographic success.

At Adchemy, my current gig, I have been helping with the public website and other infographics.  People send me messy and confusing slides and I transform them into great communication vehicles.  I love this kind of task.

Can you Outsource Infographics?
You can only outsource the “pretty” part.  If you give an illustrator a confusing slide, he will deliver back a pretty, but still confusing slide.  You can not get an external agency to understand your business as well as you do.  The bottom line is that you need to hire people internally who know how to communicate well through this medium.  Then you have the option of filtering them through a graphic artist.  Information design is not graphic design, and vice-versa.

How to Test?
You have to try them out on the target audience and gauge the response.  Did they react as you had hoped?  Why not?  Figure it out.  Practice.

Why doesn’t everyone make great infographics?  Why do most websites suck?
We have an empathy deficit in this world.  Most people are not designed to understand how other people think.  Therefore, all websites and infographics are judged based on the author or more likely, the author’s boss.  This is how most crappy things get built.  Committee decisions, consensus and lack of empathy.  But that is a topic for another day.

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