Now that everyone loves them, early adopters and forward thinkers want to know what is next for the infographic. Is this just the beginning of a visual revolution, or have they already jumped the shark? This is an important question, especially for those who are making large investments in the medium, such as publishers and marketers.
Is the Infographic Dead?
My cofounder, Jason Lankow, says it well when people ask about the fate of infographics in the face of increasing web saturation. As he describes it, we are seeing the death of the novelty of infographics, not a decline in their value. Just as the popularity of a new musical genre does not affect its legitimacy (right, hipsters?), the prevalence of infographics does not limit the opportunity to use the medium to create something of incredible quality and utility. The data boom and growing need to display complex concepts simply ensure that these opportunities for graphic visualizations will be plentiful in the years to come.
Infographics at Present
Infographics have been utilized for hundreds of years for various purposes, but have taken on a new face in the last few years, with a bit of help from the Internet. Static graphics are by far the most common medium, likely due to the fact that they are the easiest to create and host. This also affects the success of graphic distribution, as an image file that is simple to download, upload, and re-post is more appealing to media outlets and blogs looking for fresh and interesting content to share on the web.
Interactive infographics, typically Flash-based, are also becoming more common for use in editorial content. These allow designers and developers to visualize multiple layers of data in a single interface, while providing a dynamic user experience for the viewer. The obvious drawback in creating Flash interactives is the lack of support on the iPhone and iPad. While this is an increasingly serious limitation, the ease of development can often outweigh this consideration, and still net a very positive effect.
Utilizing motion and animation in infographics is another current trend that is on the rise. These motion graphics are usually narrative-based, and use a combination of illustration, data visualization, and kinetic text to inform a viewer on a particular topic. While this provides an entirely different viewer experience, this medium is valuable in walking the viewer through an explanation or presenting an opinion. These can also be useful in more brand-centric messaging, by bringing the information to life for the desired audience.
The Future of Infographics
Over the past year, we have seen an evolution in the way people are thinking about infographics. Diverse applications are opening up the realm of what is possible and valuable through innovation.
The prevalence of the iPad and iPhone have fueled the desire for the development of interactivity in graphics viewable on these devices. Developers are utilizing HTML and HTML5 to fulfill this desire, creating rich interactives viewable on these platforms. Unless Apple changes its feelings about Flash anytime soon, I imagine this trend will continue to grow.
Real-time Data Visualization
Another area poised for growth is the use of data visualization in real-time settings, providing updated visual representations of real-time events. The ubiquity of Twitter and the increased tracking of social analytics offer some immediate opportunities for this application. Media outlets will want to see what topics are trending, and what people are saying on particular topics in real-time. Brands will be monitoring, tracking, and measuring their social presence and brand sentiment on the web, and they will want the most current information available, viewable in a well-designed and easy-to-understand interface.
In recent months, I have seen some new crossover between web development and information design. Mint.com’s experience was an early example of how typically stale financial information could become dynamic and encourage user interaction. The pioneers are finding that clear information display with intuitive interactivity is often a much more natural way to engage users within a site. This brings the heart of the site’s content to the forefront, and allows users to be hands-on. This is clearly dependent on a site’s purpose and subject matter, and is not a good fit for some content, but I believe infographics as UI provide a rich experience that will be common in the future.
[A tool showing the links between scientific institutions created by Moritz Stefaner]
It is exciting to see the evolution and growth of the medium, and there are many natural applications for infographics that cannot be foreseen. What do you think is next in the world of infographics and data visualization?