Why Information Graphics Work

No doubt you have heard a lot about using information graphics to save space or illustrate data in your annual reports, but very little about why they work. A little history first!

The idea of representing information graphically began in earnest in the 18th century, although you could argue the original cave paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics set the stage for a way to  easily and creatively convey information. As they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words." (Our wordsmiths here at Seaberry may disagree!)

In the 17th and 18th centuries, information graphics took the form of visualizations, charts and maps, especially important as explorers were returning from long journeys with tales of distant lands. Scientists in the 18th century had mastered the art of pie charts, histograms and line graphs.

Along with scientists, people of faith were using graphics to depict highly religious scenes, including ‘De Schepping der Wereldt’ (Creation of the World), a 17th century information graphic that shows the earth's creation according to Moses.

In the 20th century, information graphics advanced swiftly as technology allowed for my image creation, from the 1933 use of lines in the first London Tube map to the stylized human figures in pictograms designed by Otl Aicher for the 1972 Munich Olympics.

By the turn of the 21st century, artists began combining powerful software with design principles culled from an understanding of human perception. Information graphics became the indispensable tools they are today.

Shifting the Balance in Your Favor

Information graphics are effective because they shift the balance between seeing and thinking to take greater advantage of the brain’s abilities. “Seeing” is extremely fast and efficient. We see immediately and with little effort. Thinking is slower and can be less efficient. Traditional text, table or column-based presentation methods rely on conscious thinking for almost all of the work. Information graphics shift the balance toward greater use of visual perception, taking advantage of our powerful eyes whenever possible.