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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Link bait thoughts - Infographics


I have a love-hate relationship with Infographics. For those who haven't seen many examples, they're concise sources of information presented with plenty of visual aids. Here's a source of a self-referential infographic, followed by 49 great examples.

I love them, because my first language uses a logographic script, kanji, and as I grew up with manga, I'd always known that practically any subject, ranging from history to arithmetic and even abstract concepts such as those covered in philosophy, could be learned via a mix of graphics and text. As an aside, when I mention manga to non-Otaku, invariably I receive two questions: "Aren't comics for kids?" (Answer: not in Japan - there, manga exists for every age and demographic.) And, "What subjects do non-kid manga cover then?" (Answer: what do you think "novels" cover?)

However, the concise presentation of information found in many cases also reminds me of "executive summaries" and "dashboards" - in my experience, remarkably complicated details, caveats, and alarmingly, crucial yet oft-overlooked aspects like validity of the source(s) and timeliness of reports, can all be glossed over in the interest of ensuring that a Director or C-suite level person can grasp the overall sense of something within mere seconds.

When simplification occurs to make the information fit the physical limits of a slide presentation or infographic, I am wary of what's omitted. Even pure text articles, when edited with bias or recklessness, can easily mislead the reader - something I've often complained about when I see "science" news articles in non-specialized periodicals or pseudo-popular magazines like Psychology Today. How large and how diverse was the sample the study was based on? Who vetted the results and are they reproducible?

Conversely, poorly executed infographics can be not just "eye-chart" like to read, but are conducive to overloading the reader, wherein it's arguable just how efficient it is to examine one. Of course, since we're all exposed to enormous amounts of information so readily, I would hope that schools are now emphasizing less blind credulity and more critical thinking. Now more than ever, it's not rote memorization but rather the reasoning process which is needed to discern what sources are deservedly authoritative, and what needs be taken with skepticism.

Now I'll go back to that link with the informationally dense (but well designed) instances to learn some more. :)

About Mayo

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Professional: As "Senior Enterprise SEO Strategist" in IBM's Digital Marketing division, I provide consulting and training services for both internal and external clients. Formerly I was involved in Natural Language Processing, software localization, quality assurance and documentation authoring.
Personal: INTJ Nikkei Nisei ex-patriated Canadian who takes photographs and enjoys Baroque through late Classical music. The G+ page shares some of the "best of" photos.