I get at least two enquiries a month to create these* so it’s time to put down my thoughts about them.
In a nutshell remember tower graphics are a piece of journalism as much as they are a piece of design, and with that comes a set of standards.
Infographics v editorial design & illustration
If we’re talking semantics, tower graphics are not infographics, rather editorial design, heavy on illustration.
If we’re talking plain english, what infografistas do better than editorial designers and illustrators is to grapple with information. It is this which leads them to a graphic, or several, that best show(s) visually what the information is saying.
What editorial designers and illustrators do better than infografistas is to create designs that can hold together all the elements of a whole page or screen, some, all or none of which can be an infographic.
The two fields are not mutually exclusive, tower graphics would benefit from both, but on the whole they fall between the two, erring on the side of style with little regard to substance.
An example from the other end of the spectrum that showcases what can result from bringing together people from both areas of expertise would be Eureka and Bloomberg Business Week. These are my current favourite examples of editorial design that seamlessly integrate journalism, infographics and illustration. I can stop worrying about semantics and just enjoy a good read.
Pros and cons
(See also Max Gadney’s good blog on them here.)
Tower graphics are good for going viral. They’re friendly and engaging. Their style is ‘of the moment’. Everyone wants one.
Tower graphics are bad for their treatment of information. See the one from earlier this week on Pinterest as a case in point. For starters the three bar charts centrally are all incorrect which leads you on to question the integrity of the whole thing. And with that many sources cited – listed at the bottom – are the figures they compare really comparable?
A form of journalism
I don’t mean to single out the above Pinterest tower graphic, and I don’t need to. Those points apply to the majority of tower graphics I’ve ever seen. But (I get the impression) tower graphics are by and large generated as a piece of visual collateral, by designers with no analysts or journos involved. Hence the ‘con’ above: the quality of journalism is poor.
A tower graphic is distinct from a deep infographic that plays to the scrolling nature of a browser to tell it’s story better. A nice recent example being the BBC’s Ocean trench.
Tower graphics: Let’s make them better
*I get at least two enquiries a month to create these, and being of a purer infographic persuasion they are not really my cup of tea. If there is a talented illustrator or editorial designer out there who’d like this kind of work please get in touch. If you’re good with numbers so much the better. If not, I’m happy to collaborate on that bit.