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The Aesthetics of Accuracy

Information design is evolving conceptually, but we are hopelessly in love with the harmony of the design

September 24, 2012

Infographic designers tend to categorize the works as follows:

“Amazing”, “Killer”, “F***ing awesome”, among other terms, but almost always relating to the final form, i.e., how it was ‘packaged’ for print. Sometimes, the image is so fascinating that the information details go unnoticed, or are not even present.

And is that how an infographic should be remembered?

Is this the function of infographics?

Just to cause impact?

National Geographic’s infographic about the 50th anniversary of space travel. Designed by por Sean McNaughthon/National Geographic Staff and Samuel Velasco/5W Infographics.
This great example shows the balance between information and design.

Information design is evolving conceptually, but we are hopelessly in love with the harmony of the design. However, while achieving the level of visual excellence, we often don’t show the same care with the information, which is relegated to a supporting role.

A few days ago, we (me and my colleagues of the infographic team at Época magazine) almost fell in that temptation, we had a story in hands that led us to a solution that looked quite elegant and aesthetically interesting. But then the story changed, and the format we had prepared was almost useless. After much discussion, we decided to keep the original idea, but we were accused by a sentence always present in Alberto Cairo‘s vocabulary:

“Form follows Function”

For this reason, and after further discussions, we abandon the perfect way, so that the objectivity and effectiveness were maintained. And that takes us to what I want to talk about today.

When we become interested about infographics, we are always captivated (almost unconsciously) by the shape, design, graphics and other visual elements (I believe that most are drove in by the virtuosity of the images). But when we join a serious information design department, we are challenged to think, not just focusing on the end product, but rather to develop the journalistic reasoning that precedes the design. Thinking in therms of data, order, clarity and accuracy.

In this case, information design can become a burden for those who don’t possess the investigative spirit, and must face many hours in search of information, numbers and trying to understand the topic he’s asked to work on. When looking up the information that is necessary for an economy infographic, aspiring infographic designers may be surprised by something that doesn’t remotely resembles the professional field he choose for a career. The same way, an infographic about theoretical physics requires knowledge of physics and a lot of willingness to translate abstract concepts clearly.

So, it is natural that some of the processes behind the making of an infographic feel hard, if your focus is to create beautiful images, and not news. In essence, an infographic designer must have that ‘journalist gene’, has to be an outstanding researcher, who “writes” his story with images, concepts and colors.

The graphic talent must work together with the multidisciplinary knowledge, as it is an infographic, and just as the concepts of this discipline are developing the infographic designers must evolve.

Today, we have infographic designers perfecting themselves in journalism and statistics, slowly the 90’s style (where the illustration was the main element) is losing strength. This doesn’t mean that infographics are less aesthetic – actually, they never been so aesthetic, but also with a lot of content.

The criticism is not directed the image, but to the image unrelated, the image by image, without reasons, the image that ignores the subject. An infographic that only uses perfect images but poor content becomes incipient, not doing its job: to inform.

The Internet is full of works that represent the two sides of the beauty vs. information, but few are effective on both fronts. We have a division of criteria that discusses the aesthetic vs. analytical infographics. One side spends most of the time the image, while another dissects the information. Particularly am in favor of using the best of each side in all infographics.

When it comes to getting information, we need to be objective, and if the highly crafted image doesn’t obscure the information, then it should be used. I see information as a product and the reader as consumer of this product. So based on this reasoning, those who consume demand quality at all levels, from the quality of information until the final image quality.

Ferrari produces cars with impeccable design, but its form has a specific function: aerodynamic fluidity and speed. Apple produces smartphones, computers and software design with neat looking for the perfect interaction between user and machine. These are two examples of aesthetic precision, where the function of the product is also determined by aesthetic, which is also a function.

The reader is a consumer, and like any other was demanding. The infographic is an information product, then it should also use these concepts. First, seek accuracy and objectivity and then produce the best possible graphics.

Written by Gerson Mora

Infographic designer and researcher