The Surprising Origins of Infographics

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Infographics, which is actually short for information graphics, has become a buzzword in recent times. It is simply a visual representation of data, which makes it very attractive to a broader range of people. Infographic design has become a popular activity, mainly because a large number of people are visual learners, and it is really not surprising that the popularity of infographics has skyrocketed. In fact, there are those who think that they have had enough of infographics!

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Prehistoric Infographics

But did you know that infographic design as we know it today hails from a long way back? That’s right – a very long way back. We may see infographic design as a modern activity, but the truth is that we can trace this back to the prehistoric times. You probably learned about cave paintings back in school. Today, we still hear about huge archaeological discovers of prehistoric cave paintings. These more than ancient works of art are actually the ancestors of modern day infographics. If you think about it, infographics are simply a different way of presenting data – through the use of images. And that’s exactly what those cave paintings are about. Without a system of letters and words, the prehistoric beings used graphical images to document events.

After the cave paintings came maps. You might be shaking your head at this point and saying that maps are NOT infographics. However, the similarities between the underlying concepts cannot be discounted. Maps were drawn even before writing systems were developed. Some of the earliest maps were drawn around 7500 BCE. These maps are not all about giving information on landscape and routes. They also served to document livestock as well as the activities of past generations. In short, they were visual representations of data – infographics!

Nurse invovled in Infographic creation

The history of  infographics also includes the works of scientists and researchers. You may not be aware of it, but famed nurse Florence Nightingale was involved in infographic design, albeit probably in a different way. It is recorded that she made use of infographics in 1857. Her purpose was to present a strong case to Queen Victoria so that the military hospitals of that day could be improved. Armed with the Coxcomb chart, pie charts, and bar charts, Florence Nightingale illustrated the dire situation of the military hospitals by visualizing the deaths and causes of deaths on a monthly basis. It might be infographic design at its most basic, but it was definitely a worthy cause! Now who would have thought that Florence Nightingale knew anything about infographics?

Other notable points in history include the use of infographics. From the use of graphs to present political and commercial information to basic graphical representation of war data – infographics are scattered all over the landscape.

Today, the process of infographic design may be totally different from the ideas that we harbor today, but it is always interesting to look back at where things originated. History does give us a wider point of view, and we might always pick up something useful for modern day situations.


Community Author:

Noelle Starr is an infographic design enthusiast. She believes in making the most of visual representation to bring information to the widest possible audience.

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