Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Reading Visuals: Infographics

My students often look at me like I'm crazy when I assign readings about reading visuals.  We don't just read written texts anymore...we read television, YouTube, graphic essays, and infographics.  In this visual-laden society, being able to read a graphic is a required skill.  As a teacher, a good visual in an otherwise excruciatingly dull (sorry, but you all know what I mean) essay can often make me drop my red pen for a moment or two.  And it appears, I am not alone.

Over at Brain Pickings they published an article entitled "How to be an Educated Consumer of Infographics:  David Bryne on the Art-Science of Visual Storytelling" and I just couldn't resist another blog post about visuals....I got The Best American Infographics of 2013 as a Christmas present and devoured it in one afternoon.  According to Bryne, of Talking Heads fame,
The very best [infographics] engender and facilitate an insight by visual means — allow us to grasp some relationship quickly and easily that otherwise would take many pages and illustrations and tables to convey. Insight seems to happen most often when data sets are crossed in the design of the piece — when we can quickly see the effects on something over time, for example, or view how factors like income, race, geography, or diet might affect other data. When that happens, there’s an instant “Aha!”…
The point about allowing us to grasp a relationship quickly and easily is why I love visuals (infographic, comic, painting, photograph, television, etc. etc.).  It just seems like you get to skip a step when you read an infographic.

But as Bryne reminds us, just like written text, there are a lot of bad infographics out there.  So it is important that we learn how to read visuals just like we would any other text.
One would hope that we could educate ourselves to be able to spot the evil infographics that are being used to manipulate us, or that are being used to hide important patterns and information. Ideally, an educated consumer of infographics might develop some sort of infographic bullshit detector that would beep when told how the trickle-down economic effect justifies fracking, for example. It’s not easy, as one can be seduced relatively easily by colors, diagrams and funny writing.
"Should I Check my E-mail?" is my favorite infographic from the article. As a writer, I can be one heck of a procrastinator and since I'm already on my computer, there's no greater time waster (errr, I mean, important task) then checking all my email accounts (personal and professional), Facebook, YouTube suggestions that I may like, OH, and whatever cute kitten video is purring its way around the internet AND reading all the articles, newsletters, geek trivia and pictures that are in my in-box.

But back to infographics...Some of the infographics featured in The Best American Infographics of 2013 are just plain beautiful.  Go check out "Paths Through New York City"--paths that appear to be veins in a leaf leading one through an otherwise concrete world--really stunning.

So as you write your next text - take pity on your reader and create a really stunning infographic.  I'm talking especially to you, science majors, don't just create some dull pie chart for your professor.

What kind of information could you visualize for your next paper?


  1. The article talks about how teachers assign work that involves reading writing and just doing work that involves visuals and how some students don't like doing work on visuals. I think visuals help us while we are reading because it gives us a better understanding of what the words on the paper are saying and i actually like reading about visuals , writing about visuals and doing work that innvolves visuals because as you do all the work about visuals it helps you understand the visuals.

  2. "Rhythm" here doesn't means the rhythm of music, that's means the times rhythm, if we always mess our rhythm, if would really hard for us to do things well. If we want to keep persevere to do something, we have to develop a habit to do something. Such as, we set up sometime to do same thing everyday. If we can do it for 100 days, we can see the change by ourself

  3. In my opinion, it is helpful that teachers provide visuals for students. This is beneficial for students who are visual learners. Looking at a power point can help a student better organize their notes. Also it is an efficient tool because it helps a student to comprehend a lesson. Also it could make learning fun instead at looking at a drab plain presentation. Visual learners often times love to draw pictures to help them understand a difficult subject better. As a visual learner, I have learned to color categorize my notes. It helps me organize my notes better and understand a concept in an interesting way. The one info-graphic that stood out to me, was about checking emails. I check my emails often because I know there is always something important sent out to me. That info graphic visual can help someone brainstorm why they are not checking their email. The web can help with the root of someone's problem.

  4. I think this is so true having visuals for students and teachers will make process of grading so much easier. I know teachers get easily bored after grading so much papers at once you want to excite them but then again I'm not sure if I believe that, that is very professional like drawing comics and what not in like your paper but then again it can be professional I just always thought anything having to do with a comic was for fun. I really am a creative person but not creative in the sense of drawing so I could never really put infographs in my own pieces of work but I know I can surely reel in all of my readers with an attention grabber or something spontaneous on any of the work I do. I just think that it would be a bad idea to tell all students to try these type of visuals because they will take advantage.

  5. Visuals is a great skill to use, if done correctly, it can simplify many concepts with images. It eliminates all of the writing and illustrations what saves a lot of time. Personally, I learn better when seeing visuals because to see it in front of me rather than reading helps me understanding or grasp things quicker. We live in a society where there are many ways to get something done. I believe some people are just naturally better with visuals than reading something. I feel students should be given a choice weather to do one of the other. My only advice is, do what you feel is best for you .

  6. Reading visuals can be both exciting and disappointing. learning visually is preferable person to person. I personally can understand analyzing and reading certain visuals that I find appealing. Most of the time, I would rather read text and imagine things in my own mind. I certainly take to learning visually , but it depends what the topic is. I am sure many people can relate to this. I personally dislike political comics. I dislike politics and it seems comics turned into a way of communicating frustration or seeming that certain things are laughable. Comics are for children. There's no need to create a political comic for adults when many adults are fully capable of reading about "important" topics. I also understand that some topics are easier understood through visuals. Learning through visuals can also be confusing because a person is seeing it through there own lens which can complicate things instead of making it more interesting and easier. there may be a certain idea a person is supposed to understand through a visual , but since they are seeing through their own lens, their mind can see what it wants to see. When reading text, it is what it is. There is no creating anything in the mind.

  7. I think "should I check my email?" is a good, funny, and true way of how people should think. Lots of people think they always need to be checking their emails when reality they don't need to. Yes it is good to check your emails but every minute or three minutes is just absurd. There is no need at all to be checking it that often unless you are bored or procrastinating. I could say the same thing about emails as to people checking Facebook. People are always on Facebook always wanting to see whats the newest thing thats going on in peoples life or whats trending online. This is a great info graphic piece tho because it shows how people think about their emails and the process they should go through before they need to check it again. It is almost a bad thing how we as people can get instant notifications and letters from others because as a society we don't have the patience to wait for anything anymore and want everything now and not in a minute.