Not so long ago, I had a conversation with one of the leading colorectal cancer research nonprofits in the world. They worked really hard, every day, to get awareness and funding to the third most common cancer–one that will affect 1 in 20 people. But it’s hard to run a nonprofit without a celebrity face behind it. And no celebrity wanted their face on butts.
The sad fact is, not all important causes are sexy, and a majority can be flat-out boring. That’s something this Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/WINTR infographic, Women in Agriculture, recognizes. Growing crops is an important but dull topic. Whereas some may have used photos of women harvesting carrots, this graphic does the opposite. It humanizes the cause by departing a bit from reality.
The women, who are facing a serious problem of lack of access to land to grow their own crops, are presented like nesting dolls alongside their families. The characters look straight at the viewer, demanding your attention, while understated bursts of animation keep the scene from growing stagnant. Clouds drift by, and an impatient child hops in place.
The characters elicit empathy, which compels a few clicks to other parts of the image to gather more information. There aren’t a lot of factoids, and nothing the graphic does is groundbreaking in terms of visualizing data. But it is a perfect example of what can be done at the infographic level when you’re willing to trade some data-richness for presentation. We tend to think of infographics as pixels stuffed to the brim with data.
But in reality, an infographic’s most important function is just to make information digestible (generally to drive home a larger thesis). In this case, I don’t remember any one statistic from the Gates graphic, but I don’t remember any one statistic from any infographic I’ve ever seen, either. Because of this understated, empathy-inducing presentation, I’m only left with the feeling of importance for a cause I had never concerned myself with before. And that feeling, unto itself, leaves me feeling very much informed.