Although President Abraham Lincoln is remembered for his eloquence and speeches, not many know about his fascination for an image.
About 1861, when the Union of the United States of America seemed in danger of dissolution, Lincoln began to feel obsessed with a map. But this was not just any map; it showed the slave population density in the southern states of the United States. Counties with a large number of slaves were coloured black on the map while those hosting fewer slaves were represented by white. Intermediate slave population densities were shown in various shades of grey, as you can see in this reproduction of the map.
It was literally, a portrait of slavery.
A hint of the importance that this map had for Lincoln, is the fact that Francis Bicknell Carpenter included it in his famous painting First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln (as can be seen below, in the bottom right hand corner).
Lincoln studied it frequently. For him it proved that the South was not an homogenous block. Areas with many slaves (such as the counties bordering the River Mississippi, for example, represented in black on the map) tended to be secessionist, whilst counties of a lighter grey were more susceptible to pro Union sentiments. The map allowed him to visualize the enemy and better understand the situation.
The President called it his “Map of Slavery”. These days we would call it infographic.
The power of infographics to visualize information
Modern infographics do the same as Lincoln’s map. They help us to rapidly process complex information. The reason for their efficiency is the visual capacity of the human brain.
Since animals developed their sense of sight, those that could distinguish patterns or unusual details in the environment indicating potential threats of opportunities most rapidly, were at an advantage. Millions of years of evolution have shaped the human brain to have an immediate and precise perception of its environment. That is why, for example, more than half of our brain is dedicated to processing visual information, according to the Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Psychology, which explains the reason we are capable of decoding images so quickly. Based on the innate cerebral capacity of the human being, what infographics do is take information that would be difficult to absorb and convert it into shapes and colours that the brain is able to interpret at high speed.
The 10 advantages of infographics
1. Infographics make information more attractive
What interests people are facts, data and statistics. Infographics present them in an attractive way, which makes the information more effective than if it was only in words and numbers, because our brain enjoys colours, lines and forms. When we talk about infographics we are not talking about aesthetics but more about the communicative efficiency they provide.
2. Infographics hold your attention
Infographics immediately attract your attention. Whether on a computer screen or printed on paper, the colours and shapes of infographics always draw your attention. From a formal point of view, texts are all the same. Groups of letters following each other, which you don’t know are going to be of any interest to you until you have started to read the piece (for example, the title). An infographic has already attracted your attention even before you know what it is about. Taking into account that our attention span is only 8,25 seconds, a text runs a high risk of going unnoticed.
3. Infographics are easy to understand
Given their entirely visual nature, it only takes our brain 150 milliseconds to process an image, whereas a text demands a much greater effort. We are talking efficiency again. The brain is genetically prepared to decode images rapidly, and infographics use this capacity to present data in a graphic form that can be interpreted at a glance.
4. Infographics beat boredom
Who wants to waste a lot of time interpreting large quantities of data and numbers? Who wants to be totally bored when they can obtain the same information easily and efficiently through an infographic? Infographics turn boring activities into something interesting and entertaining.
5. Infographics are more persuasive
Due to their unique manner of organizing information and their clarity of presentation, infographics are better at convincing the reader. A well produced infographic which teaches and offers value achieves greater credibility.
6. Infographics can go viral
Precisely for all the reasons we have been describing, infographics have a great potential to go viral. People love sharing them on social networks. On Twitter, the most infographically pro-active network, tweets with infographic material achieve a percentage of re-tweets 800% higher than tweets that are simply text.
7. Infographics increase visits to your website
An infographic linked to your website will, due to its attracting, interesting and persuasive content, increase visits to your website. It will stimulate clicks and shares. A high quality infographic is a great home page on any website.
8. Infographics improve memory
Concepts are easier to remember if they are presented as images rather than words. This is called the “Visual Superiority Effect” and has been scientifically proven since Allan Paivio, Professor of Psychology at the University of Western Ontario, began his studies in the seventies. The fact is that people tend to only remember 20% of what they read, but up to 80% of what they see. Infographics take advantage of the visual superiority effect to ensure that information is transmitted much more memorably.
9. Infographics promote Brand Awareness
An infographic is not anonymous. Once it has managed to attract, entertain and interest readers with the information it contains, they will naturally feel the need to discover more about the company which has authored this presentation and their gaze will be drawn automatically to the bottom of the infographic, where they will find your logotype.
10. Infographics boost SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Indeed, infographics boost the SEO of your website in a rapid, economical and above all organic manner. As high value content, it is possible that infographics will stimulate other website owners to spontaneously interlink their sites with yours. In addition, thanks to their viral potential on social webs, your website may experience an immediate boost in visits. As a consequence Google will increase the index rating of your website, thanks to the Google “Page Rank” algorithm.
Infographics have many advantages. The challenge is to design them. Gather relevant, up to date information, which adds value to any topic and be able to present this in an attractive, clear and memorable way. Here is one that we created for The Visual Speech, dealing with Visual Content Marketing. See what you think. We look forward to hearing your opinion.