5 Reasons Your Infographics Are Falling Flat


I’m not going to lie – I don’t really love infographics. Seeing them constantly flood through my Twitter stream fills me with an unwavering urge to stab myself in the face just so I don’t have to see another one. But as Sonia Simone reminded us in a recent interview, it’s okay that I don’t like them. Because I’m not normal; I’m a marketer and a hyperconsumer. Normal people love infographics. They love them so much because they like being given information in consumable, visual chunks. They want to read as little as possible, while still being richer for the information.

Okay, maybe I do, too.  We all do.

Danika walked us through some great tips on how to create infographics on the cheap. But sometimes, despite the best data and available tools, our infographics and data visualizations sort of, well, flop. Below are some common reasons why, with some advice for how to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

1. You’re not actually visualizing the data

The point of creating an infographic is to take your meaty data and visualize it so that it’s easier for a user to understand. Through that visualization, the data is supposed to be more compelling than it would be otherwise. Therefore, your infographic fails when you fail to actually visualize that data.

No, I know it sounds crazy. But sometimes businesses become so obsessed with the idea of creating an infographic, that they forget to really nail down the visualization first. Or, they have so much great data that they want to make sure they’re able to include it all. Or they’re simply not sure of what an infographic is supposed to look like. The end result tends to be a lot of text juxtaposed on top of unrelated images or text in pretty fonts. Sometimes the fonts aren’t even that pretty – it’s just a lot of text.

For example, below is an infographic about what happens when social media attacks. Social media! Fights! Your head is probably bursting with all the compelling ways to visualize that. However, the infographic below doesn’t really “illustrate” any of it. Instead, the author just tells you what it is they want you to know. Useful info? Probably, if you can make out that text and consume the message. Otherwise, it gets a little lost. If you can’t visualize your data, you’re not creating an effective infographic. You’re just playing with your numbers.

2. You have bad design

There are a lot of really poorly designed infographics circulating out there. Like, almost impressively so. If you know that you’re going to be producing infographics on a regular basis, or even if you’re just going to launch one and see how it goes, it’s worth doing your homework and finding a designer who feels comfortable in the art of visual storytelling. Because that’s what this is and not everyone is going to be able to adapt to the infographic format. When it comes to designing your infographic, you want to do your best to ensure:

  • Is it even? Is the data evenly distributed throughout the infographic or is it feeling to top-, right- or bottom-heavy?
  • Does the visual theme you’re using make sense for the topic and the message you’re trying to deliver? If this is an infographic about the number of cancer-related deaths, then you’re going to want to pick a more somber design than if it’s an infographic about your relationship with your best friend.
  • Do your colors complement one another or are they off-setting?
  • Are you doing justice to the data sets you’re including or are you throwing in the whole kitchen sink, putting emphasis on nothing?

For example, The Economist compiled some compelling data a couple years back that looked at the crime rates in major cities. Who wouldn’t be interested in that? We all want to know if we live in a safe city or if we should be packing heat every time we walk to the grocery store. The problem with it? A bad design.

The flashiness of the background really didn’t help a user to consume the information. In fact it made it really difficult to read.

On the flip side, this recent Flowtown infographic about why Pinterest is so damn addictive feels even and properly laid out. The result? It’s easier to read and consume.


3. There’s no “so what”

I’m a big believer in the “so what”. This tends to be an issue for many of the infographics out there. We create these really cool visual stories, but there’s no punchline or call to action. There’s nothing to take away from it and learn. You wouldn’t (intentionally) write a white paper or come up with a marketing initiative that didn’t have a point or a message to your reader, so don’t do it here.

Sure, your tribute to the toilet may be kind of quirky but, ultimately, so what? What am I supposed to take from this piece of content? Just because you’re using visuals doesn’t mean you don’t still have to tell me.

click photo for full infographic


4. Someone took too many visual liberties

Working with a talented designer will help to give your infographics the little bit of “oomph” it needs to tell an impactful story. But it’s up to you to have that final say over the design that’s being created and what will ultimately be used. Designers are fabulous people; even fabulous people need to be held back every now and then. Sadly, I couldn’t find a good example of this via searching (have one? Share it in the comments), but be on the lookout for designers who will want to take too many visual liberties in their attempt to get the message across. It may mean inserting things that you feel don’t belong, exaggerating data to be more visually compelling or simply trying to highlight the design over the message. Any contract you sign should take into account your rights as the owner of this infographic and what you’re trying to convey.

Don’t step on toes and stifle the process, but make sure the right story is being told.

5. You’re publishing just to publish

Well, are you? You’ve jumped headfirst into the world of infographic marketing, but for what purpose? If your infographics aren’t gaining steam or if you’re not happy with the results, it may be time to ask yourself why you’re publishing them in the first place. Because while infographics aren’t just a fad, they are if that’s how you treat them. I’m not accusing you, I’m just asking. ;)

What are some of the best/worst infographics you’ve seen? What makes a good one stand out from the pack and why are others shunned? I’d love to see some examples and, yes, you can promote your own in the comments if they’re worthy (or really, really bad!).

Your Comments

  • Rick

    I am guilty of making some shitty infographics. They sucked so much because I was thinking of only getting links from them. Not about finding a real cause to support, or thinking about what people really want to share.

    One infographic that actually kicked ass was about legalizing marijuana (http://www.rehab-programs.org/infographics/marijuana/). It was also a shitty looking infographic but people love weed, and hate the government. That’s a great combination.

  • Geoff

    For me, most infographics are made of fail because they are essentially illustrated blog posts. The Pinterest graphic above is a prime example – it would be much more useful if the text were searchable, copyable, indexable and the links clickable. Instead, it’s a pretty picture.

    You only really need an infographic (IMO) when the story is data, and the graphic helps tell that story. Prime example: http://halfblog.net/2011/11/12/disparity-and-greed/

    There are some great points in this post I do wish people paid attention to though. I could have done without the visual of you stabbing yourself in the face though.

  • Rob Jones

    Hey Lisa,

    My name’s Rob. And I commissioned that “so what” toilet piece, for my sins.

    Thanks for this article, which is pretty useful to me as someone who runs a number of infographics, and for various reasons, on our blog. A big part of this strategy is, admittedly, for linking and sharing purposes. For this one, the reason we ran it was for a couple of reasons. First, it was (as you mentioned) meant to be kind of quirky and funny, and reveal that side of the company’s personality. Second, it was meant to show that elements in the home, which we write quite a bit about being a building materials company, are often taken as a given, but are actually pretty dynamic and constantly evolving.

    The evolution of how homes, not just indoor plumbing (or flooring for that matter, which is our real business), have developed to become more in line with the culture that creates them is often missed by the average buyer. In the 21st century, this idea of evolution and adaptation is pretty important as a means of determining what life at home will look like in the future, and what kinds of products are likely to have staying power. That’s the underlying message that we sought to communicate with this fluffy little piece of ours.

    That theme is one of the key threads running through every piece of content we publish. So, in that sense you’re absolutely right – every piece of content should play into a mission of some kind. Really, this graphic was a light-hearted, and subtle way of approaching that larger idea in a quirky sort of way.

    Since it is a pretty big idea, and the presentation is very light, it seems that for you, we missed it. Not everyone can get a hit record every time. But, that’s the nature of content, it seems to me; trying to communicate big ideas in different ways to see what resonates best. Sometimes, it falls flat, as it did for you this time.

    But, I think you made an important point about showing and telling. Maybe drawing out some of the points made above in this comment of mine in a more overt way would have helped to make this piece more effective, being quirky, but also having something overt to say.

    Thanks again for the article, and I hope that our content will not cause you to stab yourself in the face in the future. :-)

  • Syed

    “….but there’s no punchline or call to action”

    Perhaps, the ‘toilet seat’ infographic wasn’t meant to convince or even educated anyone. The objective of that particular piece and many others alike could have been just to amuse its audience and get many ‘likes’ and sharing, which seems like this particular one did well.

    I think to be able to conclude what’s really “falling flat” you have to know the main goal of the infographic and then measure the outcome.

  • Michelle Robbins

    Thank you. Really just thanks. I hate infographics. Because well, they aren’t. They really should be called wordographs or linkographics. Most of what I see suffers from your points (1) and (5). Visualizing data properly is pretty important. But because marketers only put these things together as “content pieces” to get attention and links, not because the data matters or how that data is displayed matters, we’re left with loads of pretty things to look at.

    And maybe that is giving the people what they want … but I doubt it. And I suspect algorithms much smarter than all of us will sort that out and these “pieces of content” will cease to pack the punch they currently do.

    I also have to say that anyone actually serious about visually representing data for purposes of well, displaying data vs. just grabbing attention, should really get very familiar with the work of Edward Tufte.

  • Lyena Solomon

    I like good infographics which i can count on one hand. I roll my eyes when I see a long, mostly text-filled, picture. I do not want to read. The reason for an infographic is to tell a story in pictures. Of course, text is necessary but not paragraphs of it. We already have blogs.

    I think, another requirement for the creator is to be an artist, to see data and patterns in an unusual way. There has to be a main point to any infographic – why do I care? A lot of them don’t.

    Maybe, the reason you don’t like them is because there are not that many good ones.

  • Brankica U.

    Hey Lisa, you really made great points and my favorite has nothing to do with infographics per se, but the fact that we are hyperconsumers :)
    I only made one so far, nothing special, but it was really funny and I got a lot of traffic from it :) But after reading this I will try to be even more careful when I make my next one!

  • kimmieoftroy

    Geoff hit the nail on the head … good infographics use data to tell a story. Without data behind it, they’re just illustrations with text. For anyone who truly loves good storytelling with numbers, http://flowingdata.com/ always has fantastic discussions about visualizing data. And he (Nathan Yau) will tell you, The New York Times is one of the best at useful infographics.

    Well, as far as communicating the info goes anyway. I have no idea about SEO & linky stuff. ;-)

  • Lori

    I don’t mind a good infographic, and I don’t even mind reading ones with a lot of text if it’s interesting.

    What I can’t stand are infographics with grammar and punctuation mistakes. I see this all the time, even from really well known sites! Please, please, please proofread your infographic.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    It takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to create a great infographic. Because they are such great “link bait” businesses were quick to create them and that resulted in lots of bad ones floating around out there. An infographic is only beneficial if it provides new and useful information, is easy to understand, and has a nice design. If it’s just like another infographic that already exists- what’s the point?