Infographic Vs. Data Visualization: Definition and Differences

DataVisField_43 Last year, the word “infographic” was tweeted 56,756 times. Publishers who use infographics grow 12% more in traffic than those who don't.


Wasn't that boring? By itself, that set of quantitative facts is no more than text, but when put in the context of a visualization, it's been proven that viewer understanding and engagement skyrockets. This discovery has driven a wave of people scrambling to contextualize their messages in visualization form, most commonly as an infographic or a "data visualization." The line between data visualizations and infographics is thin when they're both describing quantitative data, yet we must define the two in order to decide which one will be more effective in communicating a specific message.

An infographic is typically a data-rich storytelling tool that educates and informs the viewer in a fun and interesting way. It tends to read out a bit like an essay, beginning with a clear main topic in mind and then followed by a specific path of information meant to construct a supporting argument. Although an infographic generally does not aim to distort the truth it often tends to simply because of its persuasive nature. It doesn’t adhere to any sort of implicit contract of objectivity and rather presents data that will support its purpose while potentially omitting the facts that won’t.

By contrast, a data visualization is more objective and simply presents data, thus allowing the viewer to explore and interact with the information and form their own conclusion. However, the opportunity still exists to manipulate the information in order to emphasize a specific data correlation or trend. It’s possible to choose specific dimensions and metrics in creating your visualization that will emphasize a certain message in order to influence the viewer’s opinion on the subject.

It seems that the key difference lies in the creation process. The construction of an infographic begins with the end and pieces itself together backward, whereas a data visualization starts with the building blocks and lets the viewer explore the data themselves to find their own conclusion.

Here’s an author’s interesting take on the difference between an infographic and a data visualization. He’s created a half-and-half hybrid that helps highlight the differences between the two: