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17 December 2012

Give Meaning to Figures with Infographics

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In recent years infographics and data visualization has entered a new golden age. With new forms of communication emerging due to the huge success of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as tools like Whatsapp, with their respective restrictions on text, infographics have become increasingly useful for enriching digital conversations. In fact, the number of Google searches for the term infographic have quadrupled over the last three years. This growth is set to continue over the next few years thanks to new trends such as big data and open data.

BBVA-OpenMind-Miguel ELizondo-Give Meaning to Figures with Infographics


What role does infographics play? What is its value? In this new climate, with data analysis becoming increasingly important, the key is to give data real significance. If a company earns one million euros in a quarter, is that a lot or a little? What about a state cutting its deficit by 1%? The answer to both questions is the same: it depends. A figure on its own doesn’t tell us much, but visualizing the data and infographics can put the figure into context and thus give it meaning. People find it hard to understand how big a 15 meter tall antena is. However, by placing the subject next to a 5 storey building we provide a visual reference that people understand.

One great example of how to use such visual references is provided by Carbon Visuals. The project, led by Antony Turner, aims to raise awareness of man-made CO2 emissions. Why is it so difficult to convince people that CO2 emissions must be cut? The answer is simple: because CO2 is invisible. Carbon Visuals seeks to change this by making visible what is invisible and thus rendering it more comprehensible.

Infographics and data visualization depict CO2 emissions using benchmark sizes and dimensions that people find easy to understand. The following video shows the colossal amount of CO2 that a city like New York generates in real time, over one hour, one day and one year.

Over the next few years our ability to understand data and magnitudes in real time is set to grow substantially. The value that we are able to extract from such data will depend on our proficiency at giving data significance. The key aspect is not our ability to gather the data.  The crucial thing will be how intelligent we are when representing data and capitalizing on it. Data visualization and infographics will play a vital role in this.


Miguel Elizondo

Co-founder of Visual Thinking, Madrid (Spain)


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