The Need to Study Infographics… Anyone Interested in Collaborating???

I consider myself a researcher of sorts. And as a researcher, I am constantly thinking about my next study. In fact, I have a google doc that lists ideas for dozens of future research projects and/or papers. But recently I began wondering… Why do I keep all of my ideas to myself? ¬†What would happen if I started to blog about them? Could I find colleagues to collaborate on some of them? So here goes…

The need to study infographics!

I love infographics! I am mean… I really love infographics!!! My love for infographics led me to post a few here or there on my blog. Over time, I somehow began being identified as a lover of infographics. I get at least one email a week from someone asking me to post an infographic on my site. As I see more and more infographics, I have begun to wonder,

  • How accurate are infographics?
  • Are people more likely to believe a message that is presented as an infographic vs. text alone?
  • Do people ever fact check infographics?
  • Do infographics ever use more than one source?
  • Are people more likely to remember facts presented as an infographic vs. text alone?
  • How are infographics used to persuade or manipulate people?
  • Are academics creating infographics?
  • Could conference “posters” be created in an infographic form?

Questions like these could be investigated in a number of ways. For instance, infographics could be purposely sampled from a list like “20 Great Infographics of 2012” or randomly sampled from a list like “Cool Infographics Gallery” and analyzed. At the same time, a survey could be developed and adminstered to a group to investigate their perceptions of infographics. Or an experiment could be conducted where one group is presented information as an infographic and another group is presented the same information in another format.

The bottom line is this, more and more infographics are being created each day and somebody should be investigating questions like the one’s I listed above.

Let me know if you are interested in collaborating on a project like this in the spring of 2013!



8 thoughts on “The Need to Study Infographics… Anyone Interested in Collaborating???

  1. Craig

    Patrick, you raise curious topics. Lurking in there somewhere is something begging to be discovered, for sure. But what has always intrigued me, is how understanding manifested via one method is quite different from the “same conceptual” understanding developed through another. The old adage– understanding via books and experience is quite different– “book learning” and “life learning.” I imagine you whidling down the research question while you work on the methods, but here’s yet another info graphic that makes me think about this. I my own circle, I know many who under stand the 2011 Japanese earthquake via life experience, and many who understand it via newspaper and TV news. How does this info-graphic change either of those understandings already in place?


  2. admin Post author

    @Craig, that was an interesting video. What is interesting about it (among other things) is how it focuses on data over time and ignores (both in good and bad ways) the lived experience of those living the tragedy.

    What got me thinking about infographics is that I saw one about online learning. I am a huge fan of online learning but this infographic was clearly misleading and polemical in nature. It made me wonder when and how infographics are created and used and whether people ever think to check their accuracy (which brings me back to my earlier years studying religion and Sam Gills work “Storytracking”). One can argue that the “infographic” is a type of computer-mediated communication and as such… how are they used? what is their purpose? could we or should we be leveraging the ideas behind them in different ways?

    I of course have many other questions and I want to be careful not to simply find myself in a basic media comparison study….

    The tough thing I always struggle with is how much time to devote to side projects like this (that don’t fit nice and neat into my established research agenda).

  3. M. Robert Turnage

    Hi Patrick –

    I think that infographics would fall under the same scrutiny as statistics do. In Daniel J. Boorstin’s “The Image” (first published in 1962), he challenged readers to come up with outlandish scenarios and then state them as if they were front page news. As in.. “I was reading in the paper today that scientists discovered licking lard actually prevents cancer.”

    His purpose was to point out the absurdity of many a daily news story, but the deeper purpose was to show how people do not necessarily check the math, dive deep into the real issue, or validate the statistics.

    I see infographics as visual representations of statistical data, and the more I learned about statistical data, the more I learned how it can be manipulated. This is an old problem and infographics are simply the latest form of it.

    I assume you have read the Edward Tufte books or attended one of the Tufte weekend seminars. Those are really eye-opening experiences, and he strongly insists that all infographics are pushing some sort of a narrative with the data.

    I know in corporate America, we use infographics all the time to justify our cost. Because corporations do not see the direct value of training and education, a significant portion of the job is gathering secondary data and translating it into a primary figure (usually reflected in a monetary value). Security companies use this all the time. “Yes, it costs $200 a month, but think about how much it will hurt when those pearls that have been in your family for eight generations get stolen. Isn’t it worth the investment to make sure something like this never happens?”

    Training consultants use the same logic/tactics when talking to companies about things like safety and maintenance training. Because how much would you invest to make sure the gas pipeline under the city doesn’t explode. Or that you don’t accidentally electrocute a customer?

    I’m digressing, but these are some of the scenarios that can be demonstrated with an infographic and a narrative scenario. “Imagine how much this would cost. [infographic scenario] And things get worse. [another infographic] And worse. [another, even more frightening infographic] What would you have paid to prevent it? [infographic comparing the company’s fee vs. the cost of the previous infographic]”

    Anyway, infographics tell a story. And like most stories, people only fact check them if they disagree with the narrative.

    I’ve rambled a little, but if you need/want collaboration and help, I could provide some. I could also try to dig up a technical illustrator or two I have worked with in the past to put together informational posters and technical presentations. They might be able to provide some new insight (color theory, size and spacial relationships, and how these visual elements draw in and influence an audience).

    If you are interested in reading more about this, two books that I found insightful are “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud (because infographics borrow heavily from the comic medium) and Visual Language by Robert E. Horn (written in 1998 and, sadly, out of print). Both of these provide a “nuts and bolts” way of viewing infographics.

    Hope this helps!


    1. admin Post author

      Wow… I really fell off the grid in late December and January. Catching up on my site and comments. I didn’t know about this Mooc. I am signed up right now for eLearning and Digital Cultures Mooc. I will take a look at the link. Thanks again!

  4. Patrick Lowenthal

    Great to hear from you! I agree completely!
    My interest in fact checking probably dates back to a professor I had named Sam Gill. He wrote a book called Storytracking ( which was basically pointing out how academics often make claims based on bad or incomplete data. I am familiar with the work of Tufte. I actually wrote a book review a while back on one of his “books” — I am familiar with McCloud’s work but not Horn’s book. I’ll have to check it. I’ll touch base to see if you are interested in working on this project with a few others.


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