Psychology in Design: Why Infographics Work

Psychology in Design: Why Infographics Work

This summer, our intern Ronin Rodkey did research on how psychology can inform the design of good content. The following article is the second in a three-part series explaining his core findings. You can read the first article here.


So far, we’ve learned why our brains more easily pick up on certain types of visual information. This article will examine why we would choose to use visual information over text in the first place—such as in infographics.

An infographic is 30 times more likely[1] to be read than a text article and three times more likely to be shared[2] on social media than any other type of content. They are considered much more engaging than traditional articles because consumers like engaging with visual content more than text—we’ve all felt relief after coming across a picture in an article that’s text-dense.

One reason why infographics are so effective is because while reading text is something we learn to do in school, interacting with visuals is something we’ve been primed to do from birth. About half of cerebral structures in our brains have a direct relation to visual function; while we have to decipher text word-by-word, visual processing can happen all at once, and much more efficiently. That’s part of why colored visuals increase people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80% and why images can substantially improve people’s retention of such content.

Infographics also allow us to pair concrete images with abstract concepts. Research has shown that people are much better at remembering concrete terms (“dog,” “walking,” “Africa,” “green”) as opposed to abstract ones (“idea,” “engagement,” “communism”). Infographics assign visual representations to abstract terms, helping us process them better. For example, it’s hard to imagine what a 12% increase in web traffic or a 30-fold increase in views looks like without a visual reference.

As an added bonus, the format of infographics increases their shareability. A link to an article may only be displayed as text on social media or instant messaging, whereas infographics—which are often JPEGs or PNGs—are displayed as a whole on most platforms, making them more convenient and attractive for viewing.

OK, so if visuals are so great, why don’t I write this whole blog post in emojis? To answer that question, think about how you would draw a picture of the following sentence:

“I like to work in the library, but if it is too crowded, or if Rosa is there, I prefer the coffee shop.”

It’s quite hard, isn’t it? There’s a limit to how far visuals can go. Words like “if,” “otherwise,” “but,” or “while” are very difficult to draw, as they involve a form of abstract reasoning which is tough to put in the form of a picture. It is best to acknowledge that there is a limit to what can and should be represented pictorially.

Put simply, infographics allow us to balance thinking and seeing. They appeal to the more primitive parts of our brain which process visual information, while incorporating enough text to better help us process the information we’re looking at. This makes them a very valuable marketing resource.

So far, we’ve mostly looked at visualizations from a more abstract perspective. Next, in our final piece, we’ll look at how images can also be effective in appealing to the primitive parts of our brain, and what that means for marketing and advertising.



Visual Thinking for Design by Colin Ware

Milovanovic, Dragana, and Leo Ivanisevic. “Infographic as a marketing communication tool.” 2014 New Business Models and Sustainable Competition Symposium Proceedings. 2014.




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