What's the difference between an infographic and data visualization?

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Data visualizations and infographics are two of the most powerful mediums for conveying information in a visual context. Because both mediums contain vast quantities of data, provide (often breathtaking) visual displays and help to facilitate an understanding of complex concepts or information, the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, there are subtle but distinct differences between data visualizations and infographics. 

Infographics

Infographics utilize both quantitative (measurable) and qualitative (descriptive) data. A great deal of manual design work, often involving original illustrations, is integrated in order to weave the key trends from the data into a compelling narrative. Hard data might be supported by qualitative information such as quotes from industry leaders or entertaining facts in order to drive the narrative forward. An infographic is designed with a specific audience in mind and any visual and textual elements within the infographic are orchestrated for the audience’s benefit - usually to help them understand a particular topic or principle, quickly and effectively. Infographics are subjective, explanatory and deliberately designed.

For example, this excerpt from our infographic about veganism visualizes data regarding animal agriculture and its effect on the environment. With supporting text and illustrations, we were able weave these visualizations into a greater narrative that advocates veganism as an eco-friendly diet choice. In the case of this infographic, the data above is only relevant in the context of veganism, not simply as standalone information.

Excerpt from "The Reasons For Going Vegan". Click to view full rendering.

Excerpt from "The Reasons For Going Vegan". Click to view full rendering.

Data visualizations

Although manual refinement is usually required with data visualizations, they are created automatically via a program or algorithm rather than handcrafted. The challenge is to pick the right visualization technique so that the (strictly quantitative) data can be quickly understood. Unlike with infographics, there is no need to deliberately craft a story around the data with additional text and design elements - people are free to draw their own conclusions. Data visualizations are more objective than infographics as they allow people to explore a particular topic without any embedded agenda from the designer. 

For example, this fantastic data visualization by Information is Beautiful breaks down the causes of human death in the 20th century. Each killer is represented by a circle, which is directly proportionate to the death toll statistic, making the data immediately comprehensible. 

Excerpt from the data visualization "20th Century Death", by Information Is Beautiful. Click to view full rendering.

Excerpt from the data visualization "20th Century Death", by Information Is Beautiful. Click to view full rendering.

Key differences

While infographics are constructed to tell a story, data visualizations are inherently without context. This is why infographics sometimes contain data visualizations (as a part of a greater narrative), but the reverse is never true. While data visualizations can be extremely insightful and beautiful, infographics are the prefered medium for marketing purposes. Infographics enable brands to not only highlight key statistics and trends, but also to craft powerful stories around them with an array of supporting elements, such as: emotive language, flashy illustrations, quotes from industry leaders, entertaining facts and more.

While data visualizations encourage people to explore a topic, infographics enable brands to insert their own explanation. This makes infographics an incredibly effective marketing tool.