What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I spend a great deal of time digging through resources on the web, and I run across many infographics. I ran across this one today through an odd link on Facebook, and was immediately surprised by two things: (1) that the design was good, yet (2) the composition was completely ineffective in its goals.

While we illustrate many good examples of visual stories in the book, I think it might be a good time to draw a distinction between a good visual story, and an infographic like this one, that does a rather poor job. First, take a look at the image, then see if you see the flaws that I point out.

Infographic that presents top stress inducers and reasons for leaving, along with the direct and indirect costs of replacing a worker

Infographic – Why Do Good Employees Leave

Looks good, doesn’t it? Nice use of colors and fonts. Numbers are presented clearly, without too much text. Lists are organized to look like a list, in a manner that doesn’t tire the eyes. The design is not bad. Unfortunately, its not helpful.

Here’s what’s missing:

  1. Why do we care? The infographic lists various things that cost money (both direct and indirect) when an employee leaves the company. That’s important. So consider this: two kinds of people will spend about 7 seconds looking at your infographic: those that care and those that don’t care. Who do you want to reach? Those that care are already working to address these issues… so let’s assume you are trying to reach those that don’t care. For those people, they need to see the reason for caring in the first few seconds. The reason for caring is buried at the bottom of a graphic image that is three or four “screens” in length. They won’t see it.  (In journalism, we’d call this “burying the lede”).
  2. How do the targeted people think? Certainly there are people who don’t want to do anything to “fix” the problem. Why not? How do those people think, and what can you say to them that aligns with their values and may motivate action? I’d wager a guess that most are focused on the bottom line in the very short term. Long term bottom line thinkers seek to actively avoid the stressers listed, because a happy employee is loyal and hard working. People who don’t care are likely concerned about the costs of paying them well and offering support and reducing long hours. These people think in terms of raw numbers. Dollars. Digits. Yet, the “evidence” section at the bottom of the page, where all the costs are listed, offers no dollars. No numbers. No examples. No stories. Nothing for a person who “thinks in numbers” to connect with.
  3. What makes it sticky? While the images are interesting, there is nothing in here that makes you want to remember it.  There is no visual cleverness.  Nothing humorous.  Nothing insightful.  No story or characters.  Nothing unexpected.  In essence, it’s visual sorbet.  Good for cleaning the palette between actual ideas that we are supposed to do something with.  As our book describes in great detail, the best way for people to remember your information is to tell a story with it, but you can use any of the techniques for “stickiness,” not just storytelling.
  4. What is the change that a business manager should make? I listed this as #4 but it could just as easily be the most important thing missing from the picture.  There is no call to action.  There is no specific recommendation for a manager to follow… nothing to DO as a result of seeing this image or hearing an accompanying presentation.  The author of the image never answered the question “what change do you want to make in the world” before creating the image.
  5. What happens if something changes?  What’s the result?  Stories end, and in the ending of the story, the characters are in a different place.  Something is different about their lives.  But this image doesn’t tell us what can change.  The image never says “you can save the cost of a full time employee by getting ten people to stay one year longer than they otherwise would”.  There is no BENEFIT for making a change, in clear terms, that a business manager can understand.  In other words, the “what if” question is never answered.  What if we make this change?  What if we don’t?  Of course, this item is kind of moot, considering the criticism above (no clear idea of what to change).

What can you do?  If you are thinking of creating an infographic, take a look at the CAST model.  Answer all of the questions in the first row.  Answer WHY change, WHAT is the change, HOW will they change, and WHAT IF they make a change.  Consider the audience, the story, and the act of telling the story.

And, of course, if you want to know more than you can find out in a blog post, start by buying a copy of the book “Stories That Move Mountains” in any of the many languages it is available in.

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