INFOGRAPHIC: Why Infographics Are Terrible

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 8 2013 1:37 PM

Why Infographics Are Terrible, in One Terrible Infographic

The point of an infographic is to use visual cues to convey information more clearly and readily than would be possible using text alone. This is a great infographic. So is this. Great infographics can be absurdly simple or dizzyingly complex, so long as they’re intelligible and coherent.

The Internet has democratized many things, for better and for worse. So far, the democratization of infographics has been for worse. Much worse. The proliferation of build-your-own-infographic tools has led to a deluge of hideous charts, graphs, and lists—many of them compiled by marketers of one ilk or another—that have so befouled the concept of the infographic that it may be years before it fully recovers.

Many are utterly pointless, amounting to little more than a bunch of bullet points dressed up with ugly colors and slapped onto a pukey background. (Hint: If your infographic needs a list of “highlights” at the end, you may be doing it wrong.) Others are simply inane, applying bar charts and pie charts seemingly at random to answer questions that no one was asking in the first place. Still others are so bewildering as to make one yearn for a good old block of text instead. But to me, the most galling of all are those that imply some sort of relationship or equivalence between a bunch of numbers that have almost nothing to do with one another. These infographics aren’t merely a crime against aesthetics, they’re a crime against statistics and an affront to rationality itself. In many cases, they leave you with a poorer understanding of the topic at hand than you possessed before you read them.

Advertisement

All of which may help to explain why this infographic by Zach Weinersmith and Ross Nover is one of my favorites in quite some time. Not only are the gripes about sketchy sourcing, irrelevant data, and incoherent hyperbole on point—“ever!”—but the use of a terrible infographic to convey those gripes is fully justified according to the standard I laid out above. That is, it makes its point more strongly and clearly than would be possible with words alone. Which is why I’ll shut up now and just let you read it.

SMBC infographic: The top 6 reasons this infographic is just wrong enough to sound convincing.

Illustration by Zach Weinersmith and Ross Nover

The full infographic, and more by cartoonist Zach Weinersmith, are available on his webcomic site Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Thanks to Weiner for letting me embed this one below.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?