The 16 Most Compelling Infographics Of 2012

People are finding it more and more effective to convey information with infographics rather than just articles. These are the most compelling pieces of information design we saw throughout the year–from explaining why you’re fat to showing the influence humanity has had on the planet.

2012 might be the year which we reached “peak infographic.” You can’t have an issue or a piece of data without putting it into a picture so it’s easier for people to understand. While this has mostly resulted in a glut of ugly graphics that don’t actually do anything with data (and you’ll see some of these below), it’s still an incredibly simple way to get information to you fast. And this year, some of our most compelling content has appeared in the format. These are some of our favorites. You can see every infographic we’ve written about here.


An always popular graphic trope is to find different ways of looking at the world map and how human beings are changing it; anything that visualized this new era–dubbed the Anthropocene–where humanity is the most powerful force on Earth, and we saw several brilliant versions of this. But if we learned anything from infographics this year, it was about what we were eating. A number of graphics covered food waste, genetically modified food, and a host of issues around obesity and how we can change our eating habits to make us all less fat. There was also a trend toward predictions of the future. What are the next 100 years going to look like in terms of education and technology?

And then, of course: bikes. Who doesn’t like a bit of confirmation that your biking life is better for you, your community, and the planet? We have charts for that, too:

1: Our Massive Impact On Earth, In Glowing Maps

Whether it’s building cities, railroads, or even power lines, our interconnected world has a heavy footprint on the rest of the environment. These mind-blowing renderings by the cartographers at Globaïa show the awe-inspiring power of human ingenuity.

2: Crazy Maps Show The World Organized By Human Activity

Since humans live on only a small percentage of the land in the world, maps that just show that physical space don’t really tell us much about how we live. These maps–from a cutting-edge cartographer–do.


3: What Would Happen If The Entire World Lived Like Americans?

How many natural resources would we need if the entire world’s population consumed them like Americans do? More than we have.

4: A Map Of Where All 7 Billion Humans Are Cramming Together

A map of global population density shows the tightest-packed places in the world.

5: The Genetically Modified Food You Eat Every Day

GMO crops have infiltrated 80% of all the packaged food in the United States, and no one has told you. Here’s why.


6: Don’t Look Now, But There Is Poison In Your Lipstick

In fact, there is poison in a lot of stuff you rub all over yourself every day, from shampoo to deodorant to, yes, lipstick. This infographic lays out some of the dangers lurking in the drugstore.

7: All The Food You Eat Is Why You’re Fat

But it’s not your fault. The human brain isn’t very good at not eating as much food as possible. So when companies give you so much food, you’re going to gorge yourself. Time for some lessons in proper portions.

8: The Environmental Impact Of Wasted Food

Think twice before you throw away those leftovers. This infographic illustrates how wasted food has an impact that ripples across the environment.


9: Working Out Doesn’t Just Make You Stronger, It Makes You Smarter

So much for the idea of dumb jocks.

10: The Data That Proves Breakfast Is The Most Important Meal Of The Day

Yes, yes. It sounds like your mother nagging. But after crunching the data of thousands of users and their meals, the Eatery app discovered the truth: Skip breakfast and you’re going to eat worse food for the rest of the day, and more of it.

11: The Healthiest Eating Cities In The World

The Eatery app has enough self-inputted data about people’s dining habits that it can make some bold claims about where people are eating the best and worst in the world. Hint: Cheesesteaks aren’t so great for you.


12: An Interactive Infographic Maps The Future Of Emerging Technology

When will you get your robot butler? When will we first set foot on Mars? These and countless other questions about the future are answered in this amazing chart of where technology is headed in the next 30 years.

13: Mapping The Future Of Education Technology

If it’s true that 65% of today’s grade school students will work in jobs that don’t exist yet, then we better get ready for some drastically different learning environments.

14: Bikes Aren’t Just Good For You, They’re Good For The Economy, Too

The information in this handy graphic makes it clear that spending money on bike infrastructure can have far-reaching positive economic impacts.


15: This Bike Could Save Your Life: An Infographic On The Massive Benefits Of Bicycling

But, really: How do you feel about losing 13 pounds? That’s just one of the many benefits of bike commuting, all of which are contained in this compelling chart.

16: The Insane Economics Of Not Legalizing Marijuana In One Handy Infographic

There’s a lot of green in green. This infographic shows just how much money is falling through the cracks, and how much we’re spending to keep it underground.

More 2012 roundups:


About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Impact section, formerly Have an idea for a story? You can reach him at mclendaniel [at]