Infographic and data visualization often are used interchangeably. And, indeed, the distinction is not hard and fast. They both focus on showing rather than telling. They explain something using more visual cues than words or numbers and so take advantage of our visual superpowers. (For more on these superpowers, see Tip #1.) The difference is that an infographic is more of a story, and a data visualization is more of a tool.
An infographic typically uses images to lead the viewer through a story. Some of those images might be visualizations of data. For example, the point of this infographic is to show the viewer the negative impact of homelessness in contrast to the positive impact of a program called Ability Housing. Infographics are usually meant to explain or show something to people who are not all that familiar with the topic.
A data visualization, unlike an infographic, uses visual cues (shape, color, size, etc.) primarily to represent data. Think bar chart, line graph, pie chart, and maps. And though the creator of the data visualization may have a story he/she wants to tell, the viewer can use the visualization to discern any number of stories.
For example, on the quadrants chart below, each circle represents an educational strategy. The strategies are plotted along two measures: how much importance educators place on the strategies and how often they put these strategies into practice. We can use this chart as a tool to decide what to do next. Clearly, most of the educators represented in the data already feel these strategies are important. But they use the tactics less than 50 percent of the time. So we need not waste time explaining the value of the strategies to them. Instead, we should figure out what is getting in the way of their implementing the strategies.
So if you are looking to tell a specific story particularly to an outside audience, consider an infographic. If you are looking for a tool to explore data, consider a data visualization.
See other data tips in this series for more information on how to effectively visualize and make good use of your organization's data.