The Age of the Picture
A picture tells a thousand words. That adage is often thrown around but holds more than just a shred of truth. Numerous studies have shown that including visuals along with a set of data will increase retention and bring more interest to any given topic. We’ve seen an increase in these types of jobs as well, in fields of design (Infographic Designers, Data Visualists) and in the business world as well (Data Analysts).
Businesses and consumers have picked up on this trend of visualizing and a new buzz word was born—the infographic. The infographic has stormed its way into annual reports, white papers, presentations, and has eclipsed the bar graph, taking its place among the business greats. Instead of boring, stale reports, time and attention is being paid to the design of information, and beautiful graphics are taking the place of large blocks of text.
Consumers as well have picked up the new kid on the block, and infographics showing everything from how to mix a cocktail to decoding laundry symbols have become mainstays in popular culture. Open market websites such as Etsy even sell infographics as consumers are making space in their homes and offices to hang poster sized versions of recipes, business practices and family trees…all beautifully visualized in infographic form.
Old Dog, New Tricks?
But these infographics are not exactly new. In fact, one could argue that infographics are among the oldest form of communication around. When we strip away the pretty pictures and symbols and getdown to the essential form of an infographic, we find that it is really a visual communication method meant to record and tell a story. This allows the term infographic to be applied on a grander scale. If we establish that an infographic’s purpose is to tell a story or communicate in a visual manner, then abstract communications such as constellations, subway maps, and cave drawings are all under that umbrella.
Cavemen, Natural Designers
Taking a page from our history professors, we can go back in time and look at the first storytellers. 40,000 years ago the first storytellers took up their brushes in the form of cave paintings. First thought to be of inconsequential importance, it was later thought that these paintings tell a story of a way of life. Recounting battles, births, deaths, celebrations and massacres, these ‘stories’ log a set of data that has not only stood the test of time, but proven to be crucial in shaping our modern day understanding of how our ancestors lived.
Cave drawings found in France and Spain show elaborate paintings of animals, plants and even abstract works that some believe to be a map of the stars. While primitive, these drawings illustrated over 900 animals and gave us a clue into the time of the ice age.
One of the most famous, and earliest series of cave paintings was found in Lescaux, France and contained almost 2,000 figures of people, animals and abstract representations that many believe are part of the Summer Triangle constellation. The sheer mass of paintings, as well as their deep location in the caves, indicates that the stories recorded were of importance to the people who created them. The elaborate scenes and depictions of battles and birth records makes these caves the world’s largest infographic.
The Forgotten Communication
So why did infographics take so long to resurface in a new way? My theory is that over time, the written word was codified and elevated to become the most efficient means for some communication and effectively became the newest, most exciting way to communicate. As people, technology and businesses evolved, a need once again arose for visual information. Studies done proving that people learn in different ways started to repave the way to visual cues in teaching and business practices. Slowly our culture relearned that sometimes the oldie is still the goodie and cavemen were the infographic masters.
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