Infographics on the rise

The average attention span of an internet surfer at the turn of the century used to be 12 seconds per page. The average attention span of a gold fish is 9 seconds. By the year 2012 it has declined to 8 seconds! Which means we need to tread lightly when making jokes of the intelligence of our tangerine friends in fishbowls.

It is well known that since the world wide web and smartphones infiltrated our day-to-day lives, we are being bombarded with information ranging from the important, the serious to the trivial (yes I’m thinking of your baby photos and the trillion cute cat videos...) Some refer to this era as the Information Age. We are truly priviledged to have all this at our fingertips, but sometimes it can become overwhelming. It becomes difficult to recall details of what we read and to relocate that fact within the pages and pages your eyes glanced over can become near to impossible.

That’s why we see an increase in infographics. Infographics are visualisations that present complex information quickly and clearly; it integrates words and graphics to reveal information, patterns or trends. Above all, infographic aids recall because it presents information as beautiful and engaging.

William Playfair “Commercial and Political Atlas”, 1786.

William Playfair

Presenting data in a visual manner has a long history dating back to 1786 when William Playfair published The Commercial and Political Atlas. It utilised bar charts, line graphs and histograms to represent the economy in England. Florence Nightingale used the Coxcomb chart to persuade Queen Victoria in 1857 to improve the conditions in military hospitals. Her chart illustrated clearly how the most deaths during each month of the Crimean War could be prevented since it was caused by diseases and not wounds received during battle.

Other important innovators of infographics were Harry Beck with his creation of the London Tube map showing only the public transit routes and stations with lines and no other irrelevant data and Otl Aicher’s set of pictograms he created for the 1972 Munich Olympics which influened the design of many public signs today. Edward Tufte’s Visual Display published in 1982 established him as a hallmark of data visualisation.

Harry Beck

Over the last couple of years software programs such as Microsoft Office and online sources have simplified the creation of data visualization which means that the audience has become more sophisticated as well. This provides fertile soil for designers to create more innovative infographics and data visualisations. Instead of only looking at bar & pie charts, we see more and more descriptive imagery being used and even photography as in the case of Peter Orntoft’s series of infographics on societal issues in Denmark.

Peter Orntoft

There are different types of infographics:

  • List

This type is ideal of information that is grouped together such as in a shopping list, or as in a step by step process that is being explained.

  • Comparison

The comparison infographic is ideal for information that compares two similar matters with one another.

  • Flow chart

It is ideal for information that is relational with no specific beginning or end.

  • Visual article

These types are articles that are interpreted in a visual manner.

  • Map

When maps are used to illustrate patterns or trends across a specific geographic area.

  • Timeline

It is ideal for information that contains dates and follows a historic sequence.

Hans Rosling has become famous worldwide through his data visualisations. He combines enormous quantities of data to reveal the story of the world’s development. Do yourself a favour and watch the excerpt 200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes from the BBC documentary “The Joy of Stats” and see how statistics become relevant and even entertainment.


Balliet, A. 2013. Killer Infographics: Harnessing the Power of Visual Communication. Slideshow. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 28 September 2017].

Raminez, D. 2017. How to Make Infographics with Students the Easy Way. Slideshow. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 28 September 2017].

Parlette, M. 2012. A Picture is Worth a 1000 Words. Slideshow. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 28 September 2017].