in Everything Else

Infographics and my future.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future recently and my career trajectory. I’m not sure I want to stay in schools forever and, perhaps, even in education. To that end, I’ve been exploring other avenues. One such avenue is the world of infographics:

Information graphics or infographics are visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics are used where complex information needs to be explained quickly and clearly, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education. They are also used extensively as tools by computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians to ease the process of developing and communicating conceptual information.

Over the last week or so I’ve been playing about with a few applications that can be used to create infographics. Whilst some, such as ManyEyes, are almost self-explanatory and produce results like this:

Literacy rates by country

…it takes something a bit more sophisticated to produce this:

Example of infographic created with 'Processing'

The creator of the above used the (thankfully free and Open Source) software program Processing. However, the words ‘steep’ and ‘learning curve’ spring to mind, so I may have to buy a book to teach me. :-p

Of course, infographics don’t have to be amazingly flashy to convey information effectively. Check out the Wordle created from my Ed.D. thesis (as it currently stands) below:

Wordle of my Ed.D. thesis as at 13/11/09

Finally, programs such as OpenOffice, Powerpoint and Keynote can be used to create infographics. I created the following in Keynote as a practice – it shows average Primary classroom sizes across OECD countries. It took me a couple of hours – the most fiddly part is aligning everything!

Comparison of Primary class sizes in state-funded schools within OECD countries (2007) v3

The most important thing, of course, is to have reliable data. The above was created after studying Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators. The second most important thing is to represent the data in a way that makes interepretation easy and obvious. The third thing is that it should look pretty… ;-)

Have I whetted your appetite for infographics? I hope to publish some more here soon, but in the meantime, check out these excellent infographics-related blogs:

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  • Anonymous

    Infographics are great, but it is important that they always balance the clarity of the data with the representation…

    I think it is essential that those involved in producing these kind of images have a passing understanding of basic statistics to avoid misrepresenting the data. Not sure what your Stats background is but it would be worth spending a little bit of time getting to grips with the general statistical concepts if you have never studied much stats…

    Also the delicate balance between clarity of data and aesthetics of the image is difficult to achieve and it is essential that clarity of the data is always paramount.

    This is a good start, and I am looking forward to seeing what infographics you come up with and hearing what direction you decide to take with your career…

    • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

      Hi Andy, I’m no statistician but my Dad’s a Maths teacher and I’ve done a
      Stats & Data module for my Ed.D. It’s certainly something I’ll be reading
      up on – the data in the infographics I’ve produced so far have had programs
      do the number-crunching for me! :-)

      • Anonymous

        I’m sure you will be fine then. It just the number of distorted graphs and
        statistics I see in the news everyday which just mislead people I am
        concerned that given the visual impact of infographics they have an even
        greater potential to mislead if not used carefully!

  • Anonymous

    Good job here Doug. There is an ABSOLUTE niche in creating this sort of thing to represent student achievement. I have spent much of this year trying to convince Excel to produce the representation I want of literacy and numeracy data we collect in our school.
    see here – http://blog.core-ed.net/greg/2009/04/more-on-data-presentation.html
    and particularly here – http://blog.core-ed.net/greg/2009/01/data-presentation-capturing-the-individual-and-the-collective-using-scatterplotting.html

    If you, or anyone you know can help please let me know! The power of well presented data cannot be overemphasised I believe. Graeme Coslett has provided a solution for me that is ALMOST there and I believe from him what is needed is knowledge of visual basic programming in Excel? Excel thinks too much and is over-predicting what we are trying to achieve and thereby destroying the readibility and subsequent usefulness.
    Anyway would love to do some thinking with you about this one :-)
    cheers
    Greg

    • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

      Thanks for the comment, Greg. The reason why I haven’t (as yet) go into looking at data from schools is threefold:

      1) Privacy issues (I like to share everything I do)
      2) Statistical issues (huge databases!)
      3) Reliability issues (as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, the English ‘system’ of reporting National Curriculum levels and sublevels every half-term is, to my mind, extremely flawed)

      I shall look into various systems, however – there’s got to be one that does what you want to do!

  • Krysia

    Hi Doug

    Interesting post…. moving over to infographics in your career (did I read that right) would be a massive change! It is a facinating area although to be successful in it is quite tough. One of the things missing from your post is the importance of being creative and original – something which programs such as OpenOffice, Powerpoint and Keynote aren’t going to give you. I’d recommend the opensource vector program Inkscape to allow you to create your own images rather than using commonly used functions or images. I’d also recommend (if u have the $$ Photoshop and InDesign) although Gimp will is great for photo manipulation and free.

    Having looked at your practice infographic, it’s a pretty good effort although I’d really recommend getting hold of a good graphics book like “Design Elements – A Graphics Style Manual’ by Timothy Samara as presenting anything graphically be it information, stats, adverts, leaflets etc etc is a massive area. It is a great book and would show you a lot of graphic rules and how to break them – colour theory, layout, proportion, typography, space and form etc…

    Some ‘rules’ from this book for good design…
    1. Have a concept, a clear simple message
    2. Keep it simple, if you don’t need it dont put it in
    3. Speak with one visual voice (eg. make all parts of your image talk to each other/flow)
    4.Use two typeface families max
    5. Pick colours on purpose
    6.Treat the type as image (as if it is just as important, type is also only type if its friendly)
    7.Be decisive – (Do it on purpose or don’t do it at all)
    8. Create your own images – don’t scavange, (make it your own and be original, this takes time tho)

    Um, hope this helps. I love infographics and I love teaching design – really recommend Inkscape, Good Luck!

    Krysia

    • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

      Thanks Krysia – that’s really helpful! :-)

      I’m just investigating the area so far and know that my first efforts
      are fairly weak…

      • Krysia

        Soz, don’t want you to think that your graph was weak – was pretty good – nice n clear. Wordles are nice but it’s always good to try n be original with your ideas – unique, hand done ideas in infographics where the graphic reflects the info (often in an abstract, subtle manner) always win the day rather than getting a program to do it for you (imo). Altho it does depend how much time u want to spend on it!
        Hope I haven’t offended you, you’d pass Standard Grade Graphics easy! ;-)

        • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

          Well that’s a relief as I only got a ‘C’ at GCSE Graphics! (=my worst grade…)

          No offence taken. :-)

  • sophie

    Very impressed at your first attempt – did exactly what it said. I’ve also recently thrown myself into the world of infographics although only as a consumer – have yet to take the plunge as creator… They’re incredibly beguiling

    • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

      Oh good, glad you thought it was OK. I suppose I have to start *somewhere*!

  • http://www.artillery.ch/ Wiederkehr

    Hi Doug,
    it’s nice to read about your interest in the field of Infographics and thanks for mention as a source of inspiration. Let me know if I can help you out with anything.

    –Benjamin

    • http://dougbelshaw.com Doug Belshaw

      Great! Thanks Benjamin. :-)