3 Trends That Will Define The Future Of Infographics

Ross Crooks, cofounder of the infographics firm Column Five, rounds up some of the most interesting trends impacting the discipline.

Now that everyone loves them, early adopters and forward thinkers want to know what is next for the infographic. Is this just the beginning of a visual revolution, or have they already jumped the shark? This is an important question, especially for those who are making large investments in the medium, such as publishers and marketers.

Is the Infographic Dead?

My cofounder, Jason Lankow, says it well when people ask about the fate of infographics in the face of increasing web saturation. As he describes it, we are seeing the death of the novelty of infographics, not a decline in their value. Just as the popularity of a new musical genre does not affect its legitimacy (right, hipsters?), the prevalence of infographics does not limit the opportunity to use the medium to create something of incredible quality and utility. The data boom and growing need to display complex concepts simply ensure that these opportunities for graphic visualizations will be plentiful in the years to come.

Infographics at Present

Infographics have been utilized for hundreds of years for various purposes, but have taken on a new face in the last few years, with a bit of help from the Internet. Static graphics are by far the most common medium, likely due to the fact that they are the easiest to create and host. This also affects the success of graphic distribution, as an image file that is simple to download, upload, and re-post is more appealing to media outlets and blogs looking for fresh and interesting content to share on the web.

Interactive Infographics

Interactive infographics, typically Flash-based, are also becoming more common for use in editorial content. These allow designers and developers to visualize multiple layers of data in a single interface, while providing a dynamic user experience for the viewer. The obvious drawback in creating Flash interactives is the lack of support on the iPhone and iPad. While this is an increasingly serious limitation, the ease of development can often outweigh this consideration, and still net a very positive effect.

[An infographic video created by Chris Harmon]

Motion Graphics
Utilizing motion and animation in infographics is another current trend that is on the rise. These motion graphics are usually narrative-based, and use a combination of illustration, data visualization, and kinetic text to inform a viewer on a particular topic. While this provides an entirely different viewer experience, this medium is valuable in walking the viewer through an explanation or presenting an opinion. These can also be useful in more brand-centric messaging, by bringing the information to life for the desired audience.

The Future of Infographics

Over the past year, we have seen an evolution in the way people are thinking about infographics. Diverse applications are opening up the realm of what is possible and valuable through innovation.

HTML5
The prevalence of the iPad and iPhone have fueled the desire for the development of interactivity in graphics viewable on these devices. Developers are utilizing HTML and HTML5 to fulfill this desire, creating rich interactives viewable on these platforms. Unless Apple changes its feelings about Flash anytime soon, I imagine this trend will continue to grow.

[Nike’s Better World microsite, an astonishing example of HTML5's capabilities created by King Coyle]

Real-time Data Visualization
Another area poised for growth is the use of data visualization in real-time settings, providing updated visual representations of real-time events. The ubiquity of Twitter and the increased tracking of social analytics offer some immediate opportunities for this application. Media outlets will want to see what topics are trending, and what people are saying on particular topics in real-time. Brands will be monitoring, tracking, and measuring their social presence and brand sentiment on the web, and they will want the most current information available, viewable in a well-designed and easy-to-understand interface.

User-Interface Design
In recent months, I have seen some new crossover between web development and information design. Mint.com’s experience was an early example of how typically stale financial information could become dynamic and encourage user interaction. The pioneers are finding that clear information display with intuitive interactivity is often a much more natural way to engage users within a site. This brings the heart of the site’s content to the forefront, and allows users to be hands-on. This is clearly dependent on a site’s purpose and subject matter, and is not a good fit for some content, but I believe infographics as UI provide a rich experience that will be common in the future.


[A tool showing the links between scientific institutions created by Moritz Stefaner]

It is exciting to see the evolution and growth of the medium, and there are many natural applications for infographics that cannot be foreseen. What do you think is next in the world of infographics and data visualization?

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21 Comments

  • Adrian Esdaile

    microsites
    infographics
    social analytics
    kinetic text

    Once, humans walked upon the moon.

    Now, humans devise insidious ways to market crap.

    Homo Sapiens Hipsterus

    We're not going to make it, are we?

  • Andrew S Allen


    As someone with an infographic piece in the AIGA permanent archive and a self-proclaimed info-hobbiest, I can say that I look forward to the day when info graphics become more accessible. There's an obsession among data visualization artists with beauty over clarity and complexity over simplicity. We need more data designers who can bring story and meaning to our data by making it simple and useful (Credit Crisis video, Mint.com, NYTimes are good examples). Let's get over this obsession with ornately complex maps.

  • Aaelmaghraby

    We shall further legitimize cave painting, by our need to communicate across cultures and societies boundaries

  • Cube3

    growth by.
    1. Post literacy running rampant still.
    2. 3D engines embedded in new tablet/phone OS- ooh shiny.
    3. Global reach of Iconagraphy vs text language.

    i dont know what you guys were writing about;)

  • Sallygolden85

    Will this technology for I-pads be complentary to the present infographics?

  • Eric Erlebacher

    I love the idea of interactive infographics. Particularly in checking references, or digging deeper into the data. The reason I -- and I think others -- love infographics, is because it provides a new perspective on typically bland information. Some lesser infographics have as much credibility as a Wikipedia page (in fact, many cite them). I can't wait to see more infographics that utilize CSS3/HTML5.

  • Carol

    Great article! I have always been fascinated by infographics but have found myself deleting and passing by so many of them today because everyone all of sudden defines a simple illustrated chart as an inforgraphic. It feels like hype. It's like data graffiti.  I have found some that make no data sense at all!  Yet they are graphically and visually pleasing so people post them without understanding that they may be misinforming people with data that is incorrect or misinterpreted. Hopefully the evolution of infographics will be created between a strategist and designer, true analytical data communication combined with amazing creative design. 

  • paulgiacherio

    Although it feels like a outdated term, I think you're going to see more microsites in the future. The overhead for development is continually dropping and a microsite allows you to build in a layer of interactivity that you don't get in a traditional infographic. 

  • Anna K Donahue

    The novelty of the unusually presented graphic is also wearing thin but I would like to see the functionality plugged into different types of businesses and  organizations. Show us a DIY and let us plug out own info in. 

  • Stef Marcinkowski

    Infographics are awesome, though I'm finding that I'm kinda glazing over many of them now:

    "One fleeblefarb supplies 3.4 trillion quatloos to 87% of the Zerg population and the remaining 13% makes 2.8 kittens cry".

    Data is often meaningless without real-world context. Data can be presented and cleverly spun squillions of different ways, but like any good story, memorable joke or effective PSA, it takes a real PUNCHLINE to make information stick and effect change in the viewer.
    The Oil'd video above successfully lulls the audience into submission with its wacky comparisons and "this shore seems like a lotta oil, dunnit?" vibe. The video continues to build tension, then unapologetically punches the viewer in the throat with the whole "7 hours" thing.7 hours, eh? Maybe I really SHOULD drive my car less.

  • M J Horn

    Great article Ross - really enjoyed the visual treats.

    In answer to your question I think infographics in QR codes have yet to make an appearance but will do so in the not too distant future when Mobile/Web Apps with real time data updates are more fully developed.

    I'll watch this space........