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Infographics are great for summarising detailed information in a way that help readers get to the heart of your material very quickly. They are light on text, and rely on appealing graphic design to link elements and sketch out the main story.
We’ve put together some of our favourite infographics. You’ll see that they are as diverse as the subjects they cover:

We hope you enjoy this newsletter and welcome your feedback.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam: Jenni MetcalfeToss Gascoigne, Claire Heath, Michelle Riedlinger & Madeleine Stirrat.

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Using captions to explain the whole story

By Jennifer Metcalfe

We have been working with Alluvium Consulting to help translate technical language into plain English on a complex topic: climate and water modelling. Kate Hodge of hodgeenvironmental used her graphical expertise to make an existing diagram of global climate models more interesting and understandable. Adding a caption helped us to explain how scientists use such a model.

In using a diagram and a caption, we reduced the total amount of text we would have needed otherwise. Good captions:

  • add information not obvious in the diagram
  • are accurate and factual
  • are grammatically correct
  • link the graphic to the text.

In a global climate model, each of the thousands of three-dimensional grid cells has a mathematical equation, which represents how energy and matter interact between the ocean, atmosphere, and land at each location. To “run” a model, scientists specify how climate factors might change over time (e.g. increase in the % of greenhouse gases). They use powerful computers to solve the equations in each cell to discover the impacts of such a change.

Useful infographics for SciComm

By Michelle Riedlinger

One of my favourite infographics for people starting to think about infographics is the infographic of infographics.

This one gives new designers a sense of some of the popular design choices available to them, including popular colours, fonts, chart styles and navigation elements. Ivan Cash created this infographic after analysing 49 infographics he collected from the social news media site, GOOD.

Infographic designs are changing and particular audiences have particular preferences, so I’d encourage you to do your own analysis like this one.

And don’t forget to test the usability of your infographics.

I recently worked with Ki-Youn Kim from the Chemical Institute of Canada to “usability test” her infographic about Twitter SciComm. Some important lessons we learned from that experience were to:

  • include and explain important terminology
  • take account of particular cultural differences
  • make all examples relevant and specific for audiences
  • consider how your infographic will be presented online (as a standalone graphic and with additional web text).

Infographic on infographics, conceptualised and designed by Ivan Cash

Taking heed of the best statistical graph ever made
By Toss Gascoigne

Designed by French engineer Charles Joseph Minard at the age of 80, this graphic has been described as “probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn” and portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812.

The thick brown band shows his army at the start, advancing on Moscow. The thinner black band is the retreat. The width of the band represents the (diminishing) size of his army, which started out at 680,000 and ended at 10,000.

But the graphic shows more: the temperature scale at the bottom of the image; the number of Napoleon’s troops; the distance travelled; latitude and longitude; direction of travel; and location relative to specific dates. In fact, the whole disastrous story.

Close examination shows the detail, such as the tragic crossing of the River Berezina, where half the depleted army was killed (shown by the black band abruptly narrowing).

There’s more of the story at a website on the history of the Age of Revolution.

This example is an inspiration in how tell a complex story in minimal space and time.

Tip: Check it out carefully to see how much information a good graphic can contain.

Everything old is new again
By Claire Heath

When I walked into the library of the Recoleta Monastery, I stopped breathing. Before me was shelf after shelf of centuries-old books, sitting in the open air, some within hand’s reach.

The space, now part of a museum in Arequipa in southern Peru, smelled delightfully of rag paper, leather, wood, and wax. I’d walked through an open door into a heaven.

Among the books, filling a reading table several metres long and about a metre deep was an infographic made some time from the 16th to 18th centuries. It depicts the history of the western world starting with the Book of Genesis.

The infographic starts with the Book of Genesis

Although rather more detailed than is the current fashion for infographics, it nevertheless gives a summary of the most important points – from a colonial Spanish Catholic point of view.

It’s a wonderful piece. It has similarities to today’s infographics: it’s designed with flair and made using the technology of the day, during the golden age of hand printing. The colours are still vivid, and the writing clear, even when the text is tiny. Despite the detail, the story is easy to follow.

Unlike a contemporary infographic, though, it is impossible to scan the information in an instant. I imagine it was as instant as knowledge came in an age when it took months for printed materials to find their way from Europe to libraries in Latin America.

The library was set up in 1661, 13 years after the monastery was built. It contains more than 20,000 books, most of them published from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Less than half are religious books. The books on science include astrology. The rest cover Greek and Latin classics, philosophy, history, the arts and literature, and economics, and reflect the education students at the monastery received.

If you ever get the chance to visit, do. Make sure you arrive outside siesta time, when it’s closed.

A snippet from the history of imperial Rome

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