Digital Publishing Guest Columns
4 mins read

Communicating complex data with infographics

The use of scientific visuals in mainstream media is not new – however, with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the requirement to use scientific imagery has greatly increased. Here Fabricio Pamplona, founder of online infographic maker Mind The Graph, explains how publishers can best communicate complex health and scientific topics.

According to Nature, around four percent of the world’s research output in 2020 was devoted to coronavirus. With swathes of new research comes a challenge for publishers: how to compete for audience attention in a crowded space, while reporting accurately to their readership on scientific and health events.

Humans are visual creatures

One way publishers can do both is by creating infographics. An infographic can be defined as a one-page document that uses striking visuals, in combination with text, to communicate information in a logical, clear, and engaging way. Infographics aim to help readers better understand, remember, and act on, complex information.

Just as the selection of powerful press photography can help draw readers into an article, the inclusion of infographics can transform a piece of content. According to the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, humans forget approximately 50 percent of new information within an hour of learning it and three days later can recall just ten percent of the information. However, evidence suggests that when combined with an image, we are able to retain 65 percent of the information.

Infographics to communicate health and scientific findings

Infographics are useful in capturing audience attention in both print and digital media, across a wide variety of sectors —  from politics and business to healthcare and science.

A study published in the Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine found  90 per cent of respondents said it was easier to navigate through complicated science using infographics. Visuals also bring publishers an added benefit of making content more shareable on social media, or easier to find in search via Google Images.

Infographics are therefore particularly common in public health campaigns, with the World Health Organization, the US Centre for Disease Control and the European Centre for Disease Control all using them to summarize reports and communicate findings. Many health and medical journals already use infographics, including visual abstracts and interactive graphics, for example The BMJ. However, they are also increasingly popular to explain science and health stories in national, local, consumer and trade media.

Research into how people use and view infographics that summarize health and medical research, published by BMC Medical Communication in 2022 found that 92 percent of people thought infographics were useful tools to communicate research, and that most people use smartphones to view infographics (89 percent). Interestingly, while 76 percent of participants were somewhat or extremely likely to read the full article after viewing an infographic, some used them as a substitute for the full text. In fact, 55 percent of participants thought infographics should be detailed enough that they will not have to read the full text.

Example Covid-19 poster template

What makes a good infographic?

It is not simply a case of outsourcing to a graphic designer — publishers will need to grasp the technical detail of the science they are communicating, so they can pull out the most important information to tell their story. The overarching message should be specific and clear.

It is important to consider the goal of the infographic, what data is available to support it, and how you can use this to capture the audience’s attention. Knowing the purpose of the design, as well as considering the intended audience, enables editors and journalists to decide what data from the findings is most useful. For example “Obesity is a public health problem”, is a weak infographic idea that lacks specificity, whereas “In the last 30 years, obesity has become a public health problem in the US, according to average increase in BMI”, is much clearer.

The next consideration is layout; finding the most visually appealing way to present it. One of the most important considerations is the structure: should it be a list, sequence, side-by-side comparison, or maybe a timeline? Looking at different options of graphs or charts, tables or pictographs enables publishers to choose the best option for the information.

Once the layout is confirmed, publishers can think about how to make the design appealing. Including images is key and editors can choose between icons or scientifically accurate drawings to convey their message. Color scheme and font will also play a role in the readability of a design and how engaging it is.

Making design choices when working with complex data can be difficult. However, publishers do not need to be trained in graphic design to create scientific visuals, online scientific infographic makers offer many templates, tutorials, and a gallery of accurate illustrations. These templates can facilitate the production of sufficiently detailed infographics, that entice readers in, while providing the level of detail needed to explain a complex health-related topic.

Example Covid-19 poster template

The world has changed in many ways since the pandemic. With readers more health-conscious than before, publishers have a responsibility to create engaging scientific and health related content, that is easy to understand, remember and share.

Fabricio Pamplona
Founder, Mind The Graph

Mind the Graph is trusted by researchers and academics from 100+ top academic, educational and industrial institutions as the world’s best infographic maker and overall full-stack design tool. Mind the Graph currently has approximately 250,000 free accounts and around 1400 paying users. It attracts around 50,000 website visitors per month and is hoping to increase this to 80,000-100,000 within a year. Mind the Graph is part of Cactus Communications, a technology company accelerating scientific advancement.