Two chocolate shops
A person viewing an infographic is a lot like a person going into a chocolate shop. This shop has 150 unique, hand crafted, chocolate bars. This shop is renowned for the quality of its chocolate. You also happen to have a very important appointment to make it to in about 5 minutes. In front of you is a ten foot wide table with each of the 150 chocolate bars spread out. You need to pick one and do it fast. If you happen to like chocolate this might be a very stressful situation. Now let’s imagine a different chocolate shop.
This new chocolate shop is also renowned for quality chocolate. You walk into this shop with five minutes to spare before an appointment down the road. In front of you is ten foot wide table with 10 unique, hand crafted chocolate bars. And just like the last chocolate shop you need to pick one and do it fast. While the first situation was stressful, the second one is manageable and possibly even enjoyable.
There are a couple things happening here that make the second shop, the one with 10 types of chocolate bars, more desirable. We often think that more is better. But, when making choices we are more likely to make a choice when we have fewer options, than when we have more options. Malcolm Gladwell explores this idea in depth in his book, Blink. Another key factor, what we will focus on here, is an issue of whitespace.
Standing out from the crowd
Whitespace is the amount of space between objects and is not always white. It is often called negative space. According to the Gestalt principles of design, we make sense of this world by organizing all the visual clutter around us into coherent chunks. Fundamentally, we do this by how close objects are to each other and also, how far apart they are. Things that are close together appear to be more related. Things that are farther apart seem to be less related. Also, the more negative space something has surrounding it, the more important it seems.
So what makes the second table of chocolate better? Simply put, ten chocolate bars on a ten foot table are a lot easier to make sense of than 150 chocolate bars on a ten foot table. Not only are there fewer choices to have to make, but because the ten chocolate bars have more space around them they seem more important and do a better job of drawing our attention.
There is nothing wrong with having lots of great chocolate bars, the problem with the first shop was not the vast number of bars. The problem was that they were all placed on a small table. In order to make these bars more scannable it would probably be useful to have multiple tables with general categories to help break down the large clump of visual information. Sometimes when people make an infographic they think that putting more content into less space will make the content more digestible. When often the solution to make your data more accessible is to spread things out and let it breath.
An infographic is a lot like a chocolate shop. It presents delicious chunks of information to its customer. But if there are two many things crammed together, even though they may be high quality, we risk someone not taking a bite at all. Just like the table full of 150 chocolate bars, if we have too many facts crammed on the page we risk people not reading them.
Saying more with less
When creating an infographic it is vital to trim content until it is lean and refined. Only the best of the best should make it on the showroom table. These beautiful morsels of data deserve to have the space to shine. An art gallery often gives a painting an entire wall to display a painting. Many include a comfortable bench to sit down on so we can spend as much time as we need to view the painting. These thing help accommodate the viewer. Treating a painting in this manner also gives the work of art the attention it deserves.
A meaningful blurb of data surely deserves similar treatment. This is not to say it is bad to have a lot of great data. If there are a vast multitude of well refined facts for your infographic that is wonderful. But with increased information for the viewer to scan it is even more vital to ensure each point has ample space, and categorical divisions to make the data easily accessible for a quick viewing or a meditative study.
When we give data the space it deserves it calls out to be read and digested. It gives the reader some space to think clearly and process what they are seeing. By not making use of whitespace we risk having a reader completely overlook our carefully crafted information and losing our hard work amongst the static that surrounds us.