Cascade

Infographics can help struggling news organizations exploit the nuances of social media to reach more readers. Here, data-viz wiz Jer Thorp, UCLA prof Mark Hansen, and staff data scientist Jake Porway developed a way for the New York Times to visualize how stories spread across Twitter--info the paper can then use to program tweets that grow their audience (and, hopefully, their ad dollars).

Innovation Barometer

From GE (with design by ex-Pentagram partner Lisa Strausfeld): an ambitious attempt to rank countries on their innovativeness.

Drawing Water

Some of the best data visualizations don’t warrant a literal interpretation. Case in point: David Wicks highlights the vast disconnect between water resources and consumption by metaphorically representing how water flows.

Notabilia

Notabilia creates a gorgeous visual rendering of the debates behind some of Wikipedia’s most controversial entries. By Moritz Stefaner, Dario Taraborelli, and Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia

Facebook Timeline

Timeline is the best and most ambitious redesign Facebook has embarked on yet. By tweaking the rules of good UI, the designers--including data-viz wunderkind Nick Felton--created a template that lets users tell their life stories in a compelling, visual way. Read more here.

Annual Report 2010

Before Facebook, Felton busied himself summarizing his life each year in a set of beautiful charts and graphs. Then in 2010, he decided to make his "annual report" about someone else: his father Gunter, who passed away last September. The result is a loving memorial and shows how data visualization can lay the groundwork for a deep emotional experience--an idea Felton clearly applied to Timeline.

TimeMaps

More and more, sophisticated infographics are improving how we navigate the world. Here, rather than chart rail lines according to distance, Dutch d-school grad Vincent Meertens showcases the only information commuters care about: how long it takes to get around.

See Something or Say Something

Another big trend in data viz: maps that categorize the world, not according to geography, but according to less tangible, more socially meaningful things--in this case, Twitter and Flickr geotags. By Eric Fischer

The Connected States of America

Similarly, MIT’s Senseable City Lab visualized social ties in America by mapping cell-phone calls across the country. Think of it as the United States Of Places That Actually Like Each Other. Note the large, if unsurprising, divide between northern and southern California.

Health InfoScape

A great infographic reveals patterns that couldn’t be seen any other way. Case in point: The Health InfoScape created for GE by MIT’s Sensable City Lab. Powered by a massive database of diagnoses, it charts the most common outcomes the result from every symptom in the book. A hypochondriac’s dream!

Nike+ City Runs

Here’s one for exercise geeks: The interactive design collective YesYesNo collaborated with DualForces to map runners’ routes in New York, London, and Tokyo using Nike+ data.

History of Science Fiction

And here’s one for sci-fi geeks: Artist Ward Shelley’s hand-drawn flowchart tracks the literary genre’s 2,500-year legacy, from nascent roots in mythology to the post-Star Wars space operas of today.

999 Water Bottle

Data visualization doesn’t have to be complex to be powerful. Case in point: The 999 Water Bottle by Artefact, which has a dial to track how many water bottles you’ve saved by using it. A companion app then shows the massive impact of your conservation efforts.

Cheerio Maps

Real-estate data is generally easy to find, straightforward, and extremely valuable to a lot of people, making it prime fodder for experimental infographics. At left, Stamen Design uses brightly colored dots to plot a fun (and appropriately trippy) map of San Francisco properties.

Selling Real Estate: Men vs. Women

Of course, you don’t need pyrotechnics in the design department if you have a fascinating data set. A set of interactive charts from the property listings website Trulia examines gender differences in how people approach real-estate business deals.

Growth Rings

DataPointed plotted population change in the United States from 2000 to 2010 to show how "growth rings"--patterns in which expanding suburbs and bustling city centers surround urban dead zones--define the narrative of many American cities.

Tell-all Telephone

This gets our vote for the most frightening infographic of the year: It reveals, blow-by-blow, how a cell company stalks a customer. (Yes, that actually happens.)

Great East Japan Earthquake

On second thought, this is the year’s most frightening infographic: It uses real-time data to give a sense of the jaw-dropping magnitude of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March.

The Insanely Great History of Apple

This wins the award for the infographic we’d most like to pin to our wall: It illustrates Apple’s rise, fall, and rebirth in a wonderfully concise poster by the tireless folks over at Pop Chart Lab.

The Present

Like we said, 2011 was a year for wild experimentation. Take Scott Thrift’s "The Present" clock, which tracks time in a totally new way: Instead of dividing time into seconds, minutes, and hours, it features a continuous color spectrum that represents the seasons of the year.

Planetary

This iPad app from the data-artists at Bloom visualizes your iTunes music library as a stunning 3-D galaxy.

Dow Piano

Another fun experiment: CNN translates the peaks and valleys of the Dow Jones Industrial Average into a song. Does this mark the onset of an exciting new trend in infographic design--data audio-izations?

The 22 Best Infographics We Found In 2011

2011 was a huge year for infographic design. Large companies embraced data renderings as a business strategy like never before, whether it was to promote their brand (GE) or bolster their bottom line (the New York Times). Nowhere was that more evident than at Facebook. Timeline, the site’s most ambitious redesign to date, brought the central tenet of data viz--organizing unwieldy bits and bobs into a compelling, visual narrative--to millions of people around the world.

As infographics go mainstream, infographic designers grow bolder. Some of the most tantalizing projects we came across this past year stretched our understanding of what a data visualization can be: It can be a set of interactive commuter-train maps plotted not according to distance but time. It can be a metaphorical chart of how water flows from the source to the consumer. It can be the spikes and dips of the Dow Jones Industrial Average rendered as notes on a musical scale. Infographics have clearly evolved into something greater than just a way to make raw numbers more enticing. They’re a full-blown art form.

We can’t wait to see where the discipline goes next. In the meantime, enjoy the greatest hits of 2011.

Add New Comment

25 Comments

  • Cindy

    The fact that this article doesn't link to any of the actual infographics is an epic fail. Infographics are about the INFO -- not just a tight crop of the best looking part along with a one sentence description. 

  • MikeMarcacci

    I couldn't agree more. It also makes this post seem very closed off, keeping us from leaving to explore the content we're really interested in.

  • Gamba

    So, where are the best infographics? Nowhere to be seen. Where do I click to view?

  • Johnsrude

    The gray text over the graphics is utterly unreadable over midrange illos.  Suggest you change this.

  • Barbara Blackmore

    BRAVO! This is the best article that I have read here. I am sharing it every where that I can. Thank you!

  • Simon @ StormStudios

    These are good, but personally I wouldn't say they are the best of 2011. I do prefer the style much like Annual Report 2010.

  • Sean McColgan

    Nice roundup Suzanne

    Eric Fischer's Flickr & Twitter geotag infographic - was the stand out infographic for me this year - incredible piece of work. 
    Looking forward to more 'big data' infographics in 2012! 

  • James R Moreau

    I see the creation and influence of infographics continuing to rise in 2012, especially with the upcoming elections. 

  • Guest

    Agree that, without context or even just an explanation, these are just pretty pictures.

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  • Lindsay Manahan

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  • No Expiration

    thanks for putting together those examples. I love infographics - at their best, they really help you to get to the signal through the noise.

  • @VelcroBoatShoes

    It'd be nice to have some context as to 'what' these 23 best of 2011 infographics represent. Otherwise, they're just useless, pretty pictures...

  • Derek Watkins

    - Efficient communication is important, but I disagree with your "seconds" rule. I think the best visualizations reward careful study. The goal should be scaled "layers" of increasing complexity that communicate the big messages first, but then reward closer observation.

  • Sam Hall

    Most Info graphics are are done poorly. Designers of infographics should take a cue from billboard designers and learn how to communicate the message within seconds. I will not waste my time to study an infographic.

  • Over the Hype

    I agree 1000 percent with you. The biggest denial tool out there is, "Everybody has all the time in the world to sit, study, decipher my very cool infographic." They do not. They are working, getting kids to school, doing laundry, putting food on the table. The smartest designers know that and create graphics that POP comprehension instantly. Only the massively out of touch create graphics like these which are innovative but useless.