I have been doing infographic design as part of providing content for websites and software applications (and print materials as well), and I know a lot of people talk about the concept data/ink ratio and 'chart junk', which refer to the information density of the infographic.

However, there is usually a certain amount of aesthetics that seems to be prevalent in these types of graphic design, so I wonder if there is a term that exists which has been used to describe this aspect, or if there is a more appropriate term.

The reason I think this is important and different from visual aesthetics is because you have to take into account of how well the data and graphics combine to create a nice imagery/story.

4 Answers 4


If the term Info Graphic is described well, it would incorporate several qualities of begin informative, purposeful, quick and easy to understand as well as being visually pleasant.

Regarding you concern that

how well the data and graphics combine to create a nice imagery/story

This aspect is more about ease of understanding and its communicative strength than aesthetics. Aesthetics is more about taste, a flavor and emotional values which do not fit with being useful and purposeful.

Concluding: infographics aesthetics could mean just aesthetics but may not give the meaning of how well data is combined and how nice story it is telling.


Well, if you're talking about chart junk and aesthetics, I am led to believe that you are talking about casual info vis(information visualization) - infographics, info-charts,etc. The term aesthetics means two different things to me depending on the context in which it is used. If used for casual infovis it is subjective, how beautiful the visuals are, how well they are laid out, how crisp is the content.

The term chart junk has its origin (debated) in Tufte's work. According to tufte, any graphics, visuals, etc, which are not conveying information are junk. And by that definition, many of the 'beautiful' infographics are filled with chart junk which only add "aesthetic" value and no actual information. Tufte is an extreme example since, he was so pro real estate utilization that he questioned even the necessity of the graph's axis lines. You can read more about his philosophy in his work http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_vdqi.

When talking about serious information visualization (which I am guessing, you're not) you follow taxonomies and grounded research in different areas like information representation, interaction of the graphs & charts, the color selection. A couple papers if you have access to academic journals.

T. Skog, et al, "Between Aesthetics and Utility: Designing Ambient Information Visualizations", Proc. of InfoVis '03, pp. 233-240.

J. Fogarty, et al., "Aesthetic information collages: generating decorative displays that contain information," Proc. UIST '01, Nov. 2001, pp. 141-150.


Tufte's focus was about presenting information, and the current trend in infographics deviates from this purity by 1) focusing on the graphics/aesthetics and 2) presenting a story in which the information is only one component. I see a very strong analogy in news media, where in the past straight news was the norm, but now straight news doesn't sell as well so news comes as part of an opinion/entertainment package.

Infographics currently tend present an opinion along with the information, and/or make the information entertaining. Tufte's philosophy is simply not popular in the popular media, especially in the (now graphic intensive) internet media. People are still interested in information, but well designed stories and policy opinions are both easier to consume and have a greater tendency to be communicated (i.e. go viral).

Gun sales (or whatever info topic) information is useful, but that information presented in a way that clearly and graphically opines something (e.g. gun sales are excessive) is more likely to resonate (positively or negatively) with people, more likely to be get attention, more likely to be consumed.

Information presented according to Tufte's principles with minimal chart junk, etc. is more useful in a professional context ("I just want the data to get my job done") but embellished information tends to be preferred for consumption by the general public. It's similar to the difference between a scientific journal and a popular science magazine.

  • I think this is overly broad. I wouldn't say 'tabloid journalism' is a trend. It's always been around. There's plenty of room and demand for well design information graphics. Yes, there's also plenty of room for the crappy link-bait infographics as well. But I wouldn't say one displaced the other.
    – DA01
    Mar 26, 2013 at 8:32

The term would be 'information graphic'.

Tufte is the godfather of such types of graphics. As are the larger newspapers such as the New York Times.

There isn't necessarily an aesthetic for those types of infographics per se, but, in general, you'll find that a lot of them adhere to a lot of Tufte's teachings.

Today, however, there's also this other 'thing' called 'infographics' that is a form of link-bait/SEO Spam. This is the '50 amazing facts about cookies' type graphics you see on facebook every other day. These actually do have a particular aesthetic that I'd call 'crap'. Well, maybe that's a bit harsh, but they do all tend to follow a very consistent visual look that tends to be formulaic: find the latest trendy style on Dribbble, then copy it poorly, sprinkle with some poorly researched trivia, and stamp a giant URL on the bottom.

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