Translating Facts into Meaning: Infographics Gone Wrong

Communicating the “facts” doesn’t always have to be in writing. Infographics can be a great way to visually apply social math to real world situations. By placing the less familiar aspects of an issue within a recognizable context, we can greatly enhance public understanding of important social issues.

Sometimes, however, the message gets lost in the medium.

Take a look at this infographic called, “Pooponomics.” It was designed by Mint (an online money management system) to communicate the connection between economic spending and human waste.

Does this Infographic Get It Right?

People have a hard time grasping or contextualizing numbers that are beyond their everyday use. Pooponomics helps readers visualize the large-scale numbers associated with the waste industry. For example, it uses the weight of an airplane as a comparison point for the 108 million pounds of waste being produced per day. It also uses the weight of a building (the Empire State Building, to be exact) to compare the amount of solid waste accumulation per year. Because buildings and airplanes are commonplace in our lives, we now have a visual interpretation of these otherwise unfathomable numbers.

How Can This Infographic Be More Effective?

Just because readers can now visualize the numbers does not make this message effective. For instance, this graphic compares what U.S. households spend on managing waste to the average cost of soft drinks per year. While it is telling that we spend more on soft drinks than on waste management, it is also creating an unframed fact with no solution. Providing an additional explanation for why these facts matter would allow the public to understand the relevance of the data to the waste management story.

Let’s remember that social math is best used in conjunction with other frame elements, such as values, to tell more meaningful stories. There are references to environmentalism and cost savings woven through the graphic, but it would have been more helpful to emphasize these values at the beginning to help orient readers on why they should care.

How else could this graphic be improved?

***For more advice on social math, check out Doing Social Math and When the Facts Don’t Fit the Frame.

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