Comparative infographics

There is a massive growth in the production of infographics of varying quality and if you’re interested, there’s a tumblr full of dodgy ones here. Mostly, that focuses on the quality of the graphic design and whether it accurately portrays the underlying data. 

However, I want to consider one particular type of infographic and that is an infographic that purports to compare two entities. I find they can be problematic even if they are beautifully designed. The main underlying issue is data quality.

They can be done according to a lot of useful rules such as citing the source of the data you are using for comparison – but if they miss a key component of a comparative infographic, then no matter how beautiful they are, they are still of questionable merit. Each comparison must be a like with like comparison.

So, for example, a graphic seeking to compare social media penetration doesn’t get it right if it’s loading Facebook page loads with Flickr image uploads. That’s a beyond unfair and misleading comparison. My favourite one lately has been a comparison of London and Paris in which the cost of an average dinner out was compared with the cost of dinner out in one of Paris’s more exclusive restaurants and the greater London area was not compared with the greater Paris area, the cost of a family ticket in Disneyland was compared with the annual number of visitors to Harry Potter World, prices cited were in two different currencies making the comparison almost meaningless.

Ultimately, I have to ask how highly we can praise an infographic for being graphically beautiful but not informative because the underlying data is not useful for comparison’s sake. Ultimately, I would say the value in an infographic is linked to how informative the underlying data is and where comparative graphics are concerned, whether suitable comparative datapoints have been used.

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