Cool Infographics, book review: Inspiration, instruction, education

Summary:Want to make statistics interesting or pimp up your resumé? Infographics are the new pie charts: learn how to make them, and how to spot whether they're telling the truth.

Cool Infographics: Effective Communication with Data Visualization and Design • By Randy Krum • Wiley • 348 pages • ISBN: 978-1-118-58230-5 • £26.99

A picture is worth a thousand words or, to paraphrase data visualisation expert Edward Tufte, a well-designed data graphic is the simplest and most powerful way to deliver statistical information. Pictures are easier to understand and remember — a chart makes it much easier to see the salient information than a spreadsheet, for example. Adding comparisons (the world population is about three times the number of people on the internet) puts information in context. The use of visual representations of data to tell a story results in a combination that designers have taken to calling 'infographics'.

Author Randy Krum has been collecting good examples of infographics on his blog for the last seven years, from adverts to educational infographics about health and politics, to useful examples for communicating company budgets and project timelines. Not only does that give him plenty of examples for this book, but it also solves one of the problems of discussing online phenomena like infographics in a printed book: you can find all the examples and illustrations online, so you can zoom and scroll so see details that are too small to read on the page. In fact, the ebook is probably a better buy than the paper book because you can zoom in or click the URLs in captions to jump through to the online versions.

What information you include, the way you arrange visualizations, and even colours you choose, can introduce bias.

Want to start making your own? Cool Infographics: Effective Communication with Data Visualization and Design is crammed with examples, handy design tips and useful warnings about copyright and trademark protection, along with recommendations for tools to use, sources for data and even where to publish them. The chapter on infographic resumés is most interesting if you're a graphic designer wanting to stand out (or you're hiring a graphic designer and want something to compare them against). But it's also a good excuse for yet more beautifully designed graphics that could give you inspiration for presenting other kinds of information. Usefully, Krum includes a handful of tools designed for making infographic CVs.

It's also worth reading if you're starting to rely on infographics for getting information, because it shows you how to read them critically. If you've ever played around with a 3D pie chart, you'll know how easy it is to subtly distort information. What information you include, the way you arrange visualizations, and even colours you choose, can introduce bias. Change the diameter of a circle instead of the area and you'll exaggerate the difference. Krum's advice for designers about checking their facts and including links to the source data is a handy reminder to readers to check the sources of statistics in the infographics they're sharing.

Cool Infographics is a mix of inspiration, instruction and education. It won't make you into a designer, but it will give you plenty of ideas.

Topics: After Hours, Reviews


Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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