Consider the Complexity of Your Infographics

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

One aspect of your infographic you need to be aware of is the complexity of the information you’re presenting: how much data is packed into each chart and how difficult that data is to understand. Including a large amount of data in a single chart increases the effort needed to untangle it, so you need to determine what amount is acceptable for your target audience.

This figure shows an example of a chart (left) containing a great deal of data and a comparative version (right) that’s been pared down.

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Say for this figure, the infographic on the left is focused on France, but you’re including data for other countries as context. Well, maybe you don’t need to include data for that many other countries. Focusing on just a few key countries (the simple version on the right of the figure) might be enough to get your point across.

Your audience is also important to consider when you think of whether to use data that requires some work to understand. For the general public, a simpler approach is more suitable.

The following figure shows charts using real data that demonstrate this point: The chart on the left shows the ratio of people age 0–14 to those 65+ in a population over time. The chart on the right shows the actual populations of each age group.

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If your audience is the general public, you typically want to keep the complexity to a minimum. The data needs to be accessible to everyone, including people who may know very little about the subject. That doesn’t mean you need to dumb-down anything.

On the contrary, one of the joys of a good graphic is exploring the visual representation of a large, intricate set of data. But there is a line beyond which exploring becomes struggling to understand. Knowing the difference is a matter of judgment. (A notable exception to this point is when the goal of your graphic is to demonstrate the complexity of a topic.)

On the other hand, highly complex charts may be desirable if your audience is a group of specialists. Telecom engineers, for example, may enjoy working through a flow chart on the evolution of cellular standards through the years. As the designer of the infographic, you decide the appropriate level of complexity for your target audience.