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Understanding the Difference between Data Visualization and Infographics

To simplify the process of understanding visualizations, you should know the two most popular types: data visualizations and infographics. Because the use of graphical data visualizations is growing quickly, there is a bit of disagreement about how to define a data visualization versus an infographic. You may believe that the definition is clear, but when you get into more complex visualizations, you can start to wonder.

In their book Designing Data Visualizations (O'Reilly Media), Noah Iliinsky and Julie Steele use the following three criteria to determine whether to call a graphic a data visualization or an infographic:

  • Method of generation: This criterion refers to what goes into creating the graphic itself. If lots of original illustrations are created to explain the data, for example, it's likely to be an infographic. You often see infographics with beautiful, elaborate images created to explain the information. The following figure shows an example created by Coleen Corcoran and Joe Prichard. You can see the original image here.

    Carland displays history in an easy to follow way.
    Carland displays history in an easy to follow way.
  • Quantity of data represented: Typically, data visualizations have more and different kinds of data from infographics. Also, the data in data visualizations changes frequently to indicate changes in status. In addition, an infographic is less likely to include interactive numbers.

  • Degree of aesthetic treatment applied: This criterion refers to the artfulness of the graphic. If a lot of design work has gone into displaying information, the graphic is likely to be an infographic.

We have another criterion to help you determine the difference between a data visualization and an infographic: whether the graphic is interactive or static.

An interactive graphic tells a different story each time new data is inserted. An interactive visualization helps you determine what the data is telling you. A static visualization depicts a data story that you want to explain to others. The figure below shows how coffee choices reflect one's personality. You can see the original image here.

A static visualization (infographic) isn't updated with new data.
A static visualization (infographic) isn't updated with new data.

You can use the information in the table below to determine whether you're working with an infographic or a data visualization. This table becomes useful when you want to decide what type of visualization to create for specific information and/or low-quality graphics.

Data Visualizations versus Infographics
Data Visualization Infographic
Method of generation More numbers used Original images created
Quantity of data More data Less data, more conclusions
Degree of aesthetic treatment Less artful, more focused on information itself More artful
Interactive versus static Interactive (data changes) Static (data remains fixed)
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