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Justin Alvarez: Show, Don’t Tell

November 22, 2011

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How does the 2008 global financial recession impact the U.S. versus Europe? (Now with visuals!)

By **Justin Alvarez**

money xkcd.jpgMoney—A Chart of All of It, Where It Is and What It Can Do by Randall Munroe

Infographics offend me. There, I said it.

Okay, now let me step back to explain why. It’s not that the concept of data visualization offends me; it’s the lack of data in modern infographic design that offends me.

Like a Michael Bay film, it’s all visuals and no substance. As Amy Balliet put it in Smashing Magazine, the “visualization should not be left up to interpretation, it should instead be designed in a way that provides a universal conclusion for all viewers. In the simplest terms, infographics are not too different than the charts and graphs that programs like Excel have been spitting out for years.”

I agree with Balliet that infographics are here to stay. USA Today, The New York Times, even Barack Obama, they all use them. (And let’s not forget GOOD, whose popularity rose significantly through their use of infographics).

However, most designers forget that the key to a successful infographic is keeping the concept of “show, don’t tell” close to heart. This leads me to Randall Munroe’s Money—A Chart of All of It, Where It Is and What It Can Do infographic, featured on his webcomic xkcd.

Simply, it’s an immensely large chart with immensely small text that compares the different amounts of money flowing in the world. And that’s where Munroe succeeds at, “turning this information into a visually stimulating, cohesive design that tells a story…”

Even without the monetary amounts given, I am able to compare the income of the 1% versus the 99% (it’s not pretty), how much the U.S. spent on World War II versus the Iraq War (surprising), and even how much loose change fits in a one-gallon jug.

Explore the chart, and then check out the sources behind all the hard numbers here. If only Munroe’s source spreadsheet was as easy to explore as his infographic.

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Justin Alvarez Large.jpg
Justin Alvarez is a Guernica Daily and new media editor at Guernica. Read more about him here.



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For more on this topic and others at GUERNICA, click HERE .

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