A generation ago -- make that two generations -- banner ads were online marketing's Big Thing.

They're long gone, of course, done in by complaints about their intrusiveness and the subsequent development of better ad formats.

Perhaps more importantly, the Internet had developed banner blindness: the ads were so ubiquitous it was almost as if they weren’t there. Soon they were actually gone.

Another One Bites the Dust

Can the same be said for infographics? While not an ad, they've become a very popular marketing format.

To be more exact, infographics have been part of the design landscape for years: they were, and are, commonly used by news media and television stations to illustrate information.

But as the tools to create these graphic designs proliferated — in many cases with collaboration features allowing a team to work on them in real time — so did the universe of infographics.

Did we collectively create a monster?

A Format for the Ages

One school of thought will tell you that while there are plenty of "bad" infographics out there — they might have inaccurate data of dubious value — the format itself is one of the ages.

Studies have found 65 percent of us are visual learners and that the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text (hat tip to the Content Marketing Institute for surfacing this data point — making the infographic a digestible form of content, ideal for our busy lives.

"Using visuals to explain data and complex information is extremely useful," John Clifford, founder of the graphic design house Think Studio told CMSWire.

"The infographic has the power to clarify. It can establish a visual language that is more accessible than pure text. It also helps establish relationships among data that would not be clear otherwise," he said.

He capped off with words that are music to a reporter's ear: "an infographic can draw the eye and invite a reader into an article or story."

But Hold On

The other school of thought, however, will tell you that infographics have been overused and have oversaturated an already content-saturated market.

"Infographic posting generally rose steadily from 2007 to 2012, where it peaked, and has begun to decline since then," Sarah Rapp, head of Behance Community Data and Insights at Adobe, told Fast Company earlier this year.

Jess Bachman at Visual.ly's blog put it aptly last year when she wrote: "I think it’s fair to say that if infographics were put on the Hype Cycle, we would be somewhere in the trough of disillusionment."

But neither Fast Company nor Bachman totally write off the form — and neither should digital marketers. Instead, consider the following tips for the proper use of what can be a powerful tool.

4 Things to Consider

  1. Not every piece of information should be in an infographic. So said Think Studio's Clifford. Pick and choose what will be interesting to readers.
  2. Remember their fundamental strength and play to that. "As long as the world continues to amass information, data and opinions, the need for infography will only grow," SHIFT Communications Creative Director Pete Buhler told CMSWire. "It resolves a basic need that we will never be without: making sense of complex, and sometimes less than scintillating information."
  3. Promote them well. If you are going to make an infographic, promote it by explaining why the data is important and why the story it is telling needs to be told, according to John McDougall, president of Authority Marketing and McDougall Interactive. "If your infographic has real data and is useful and then you do a good job of promoting it, that will always have value," he told CMSWire.
  4. Above all — get to the point quickly. "People find infographics useful if the data displayed is succinct," Lorrie Thomas Ross, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy told CMSWire. "The ones where you have to scroll for days or ones that are done for the sake of upper management — maybe they want an infographic because they heard they work at a conference — are usually done without the right intention."

The infographics generated in these circumstances are usually a waste of time and damaging to the company's brand to boot, she said.

Ross told of a client of hers — a law firm — that spent a lot of money on infographics that illustrated what she called "useless statistics." The whole project, if it had made the light of day, she said, "Would have cheapened the caliber of the firm."

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by SurrealisticSoother.