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22 March 2019

When Does an Infographic Say More Than a Thousand Words?

Journalists try to make stories more understandable and attractive for audiences by using visuals instead of words only. But are these so called ‘infographics’ doing their job? A study in Journalism Studies investigates how news consumers use and appreciate infographics and shows three conditions under which visuals work best.

Take aways

  • News readers use an infographic to form an overall impression and do not look at it in detail.
  • Checklist for a successful infographic:
  1. Interesting topic
  2. Beautiful design
  3. Clear link between visuals and text
  4. Clear function of infographic
  • Collaboration between journalists and designers is crucial, as news consumers appreciate visuals better when they are in accordance with the text.

Study information

  • Who?

    Eye tracking: 122 participants (mean age: 23, 79% female)

    Focus group: 28 participants divided over 4 groups

    Survey: 503 participants (mean age: 47, 42% female)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    The researchers studied the value of infographics in three ways. First, participants read a Dutch quality newspaper in print version, on a tablet or online. The researchers measured how long participants looked at the text and infographic of an article. Then, readers of several other newspapers discussed their evaluation of articles with visuals in a so-called ‘focus group’. Finally, other readers of the same newspapers answered online questions about their first impression of an infographic and if it improved a news article.

Facts and findings

  • Participants looked at the infographic much shorter and less in detail than to the article text.
  • Participants were more inclined to use an infographic in an article when they were interested in the topic, when the topic was important, and when the visual was designed nicely.
  • Participants who believed the visual was beautiful and interesting understood and, therefore, appreciated the visual better.
  • When the visual and text were in accordance with each other, participants understood them better.