Thursday, August 21, 2014

Truth in advertising, or infographic gone bad?

Well, I’m on of those out-of-fashion readerly types who believes that one word is worth a thousand pictures, so my bias is clearly toward the written word over the graphic depiction.

I am, of course, at odds with the (marketing) times, as so-called “infographics” have become all the rage as a means to quickly convey lots o’ information (numerical and other) to those put- upon, info-overloaded folks who have time to read bullet-points at best, but who have not yet gone over to the totally dark side and become capable of receiving input only via audio-video.

Me, I have to work too hard at infographic interpretation to make trying to parse one out worth my while. If I don’t get it at a glance, I give it a pass.

But in my business, I do see plenty of infographics, and, on occasion, even have to come up with suggestions for them.

Whether I come up with suggestions or not, I do find that infographics are increasingly cluttering up the content that I work on. Sigh…

(I do fear that within a few generations, humans will have the literacy level of the average Lascaux cave-dweller.)

Anyway, infographics have become so popular in marketing that last year I even took a one-day course with Edward Tufte, the guru of data visualization. The course was quite interesting and, if nothing else, I learned that a lot of what passes for an infographic these days is nothing more than a glorified design element with a number smacked on it. The course also came with a box full of Edward Tufte’s books. The books are actually quite beautiful, and I put them aside, telling myself that one day I would actually delve into them and turn myself into an infographics expert.

Well, that day didn’t come, but I happily gave them over to a couple of brainy younger relatives of my husband’s – a computer science professor and her husband the mathematician – when they came by for lunch the day of Jim’s memorial service. I suspect that Steph and Scott are getting more out of those tomes than I ever would have.

One of the least info-rich infographics I’ve ever seen showed some type of chart, but an axis wasn’t labeled, so even if you put your mind to it, there was no way you could really figure it out.

Anyway, sneer as I might, there are plenty of times when even written-word little old me finds a graphic approach to conveying information understandable, useful, and helpful.

One of the graphic types that I tend to find particularly clear is the Venn diagram, a pretty good way to indicate the proportional relationships between and among things.

Thus, I was very quickly able to interpret the Venn diagram used in a recent ad for Thomson Reuters, itself an organization dedicated to providing all sorts of information, reuters values_0presumably as clearly and accurately as possible.

As the Thomson Reuters Venn diagram clearly shows, when it comes to values like Trust, Partnership, Innovation and Performance, there is precious little overlap with the values that Thomson Reuters in fact espouses.

Personally, I don’t really give a hoot about when I have any sort of partnership relationship with an information provider. Just provide me with the damned information.

Innovation is a tad more important. After all, if Reuters Thomson didn’t care about innovation, information would still be sent via carrier pigeons or the clickety-clack, dot-dash of the telegraphy machine. So it is somewhat surprising that Thomson Reuters has so little regard for it.

The same goes for performance. Come on, who wants to read (or listen to, or watch, or find in an infographic) yesterday’s news?

But, gee, you’d think that one value that an information provider would really want to get right would be trust. Dewey defeats Truman, anyone?

No doubt the designer who came up with this ad didn’t know a Venn Diagram from his elbow. Ditto the hapless marketing person who okayed it.

But surely there is someone somewhere in the vast Thomson Reuters empire who knows something about infographics (or at least Venn diagrams) - someone, somewhere who should have been able to put the kibosh on this howler.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s some much welcome truth in advertising.


Thanks to my brother-in-law Rick for pointing this one out to me. He saw it on Zerohedge.

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