Yesterday, Jeff Bullas posted an article about Twitter stats. I have a great deal of respect for Bullas’s writing, and he’s an undisputed leader in the Social Media world, especially in regard to building shareable content. But the infographic attached to the article was—how do I put this politely?—bad.
Good data visualization makes sense of data, making the viewer think about the substance of it rather than anything else. It should be transparent and intuitive, like any good UX, with the form coming out of the function. In one of Edward Tufte’s wittier moments, he says that “when the overall design [of a data representation] purveys Graphical Style rather than quantitative information, then that graphic may be called a duck in honor of the duck-form store, “Big Duck.”
In The difference between data visualization and infographics, I discuss how my response to Bullas’s infographic made me think, and actually figure out why it made me angry. But what makes it “bad”? I mean, how can you tell a good infographic from a “duck”?
Let’s take a look:
The design elements
To start off with, WHAT IS WITH THE NAUTICAL THEME? It makes no sense. Twitter’s logo color is blue, which is the closest thing to an oceanic link that I can see. (?)
It. Makes. No. Sense.
“There are a lot of fish in the sea” as the section title for Twitter’s overall numbers? “Your Canoe” to describe trending tools?!? Canoes, sea, fishing, ocean, and sailors—it’s cutesy kitsch, and it actively detracts from any understanding of the data. Apparently in the “Good Ways to Drown” section, someone ran out of pithy nautical terms, because the designer abruptly and jarringly changes to “Don’t sell at the wedding” and “Winking in the dark.” Ugh.
Also, the decorative font they used is ungainly and not very easy to read. Coupled with the busy (BUSY!) graphical elements like the diagonal pinstripes, the massive navy banners, the centered highlights in everything horizontal, it’s a big blue mess. There are places where things aren’t capitalized that should be, text is cramped and badly kerned, and reference data is given similar weight and placement as descriptions. It’s just… not good.
This infographic looks like a duck.
The data elements
Where to begin? Probably the worst thing about this graphic is that it doesn’t have any real purpose: what understanding are the “numbers behind Twitter” supposed to give me? Is the target audience a marketer who needs to know why Twitter is important or how to use it? If they don’t already know, they should be fired ASAP. Is it supposed to help a newbie learn the ropes about building a personal following? Then, why would they care about the most popular re-tweets, who has the most followers? Or, is this supposed to simply be a state-of-the-Twitter address? If that’s the case, the helpful tips about potential reach are unnecessary and distracting.
And speaking of potential reach: they define it as
the number of followers of people who used the following hashtags
Um… what? Who came up with that? How can it possibly be considered a potential reach for Jane User? Because it’s not—just because someone (famous or not) has used a hashtag doesn’t mean that even one of their users give a damn about you using it. Here’s an example: Katy Perry recently tweeted: “#Throwbackthursday in my Sailor Moon dress” with a link to a picture. Do any of her followers care about your old middle school picture? No. They don’t. Comically, Perry’s followers alone are more than the “potential reach” of the #tbt hashtags in this graphic (the data was collected in September, Perry’s tweet was 16 December). If only it were so easy.
Sure enough, this infographic walks like a duck.
Graphical data representation
The painful “Sailor’s Code” section of the graphic:
I’ll leave aside the question of why “social change” hashtags are included here, because I’ve given up trying to make sense of what data they’re giving me and why I should care about it.
One of the first rules of making data understandable visually is the principle of relative size. Namely, the size of something relative to the other items in the same graphic need to be the same as the relation in the data, or else you give the viewer a false (in)equivalency. You can see that Syria is about half as big as the heart that represents #Love here, but 240 is 2/3 of 360. The font sizes used also contribute to the overall skewing of one’s perception: #Syria and #Love are pretty much equally sized, but the size of other three appear to be dictated by what looks good in the available space, not by what makes sense of the data.
And again: hashtags do NOT equal potential reach. Does anyone really think that any of the 360 million people who used #love in a tweet that day is following that hashtag? Of course they’re not—most are commenting on the state of their life, and how wonderful their mom/partner/kid/favorite topic is. Even the other terms on this list, which are far more likely to be searched for, still have way more people talking than they do listening.
Quack-quack (this is me, saying that this infographic sounds like a duck. Get it?)
So, what’s the point?
Yeah, that’s what I’d like to know… But seriously, there doesn’t appear to be a point to this graphic. From what I can tell it is simply a picture that was designed to go on a post, to make it more sharable. It regurgitates some data in a way that’s thematic and kitschy, and doesn’t make the reader any better off than when they started.
So, a duck: