Infographic: Epidemics of North America

I dont know about you all, but I love those infographic things people create. They make statistics a lot more understandable and relatable than a chart of black-and-white numbers. Here is a cool one that turns devastating diseases into really pretty graphics ;)

An infographic by the team at Online Masters In Public Health

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Pardon me for being ferociously critical, but those are really, really, really bad.

Bad design, graphics and language that have the wrong associations and can backfire spectacularly. This should become a textbook case for students of advertising, about what NOT to do.

Biggest screw-up: Putting the name of the disease in the red areas in the hypodermic needles. That associates "needles" with "disease," which clashes with the association we want to promote, of "needles" with "vaccine" and "treatment." That by itself should be sufficient to fire whoever created this.

Next-biggest screw-up: Names of nationalities and ethnicities associated with diseases, and clumsy use of language in those areas.

For example, smallpox "introduced by Europeans" and "dropped" the population of Native Americans: that puts people of Euro ancestry on the defensive, and depersonalizes the deaths of Native Americans; EXACTLY back-asswards.

This should be "introduced from Europe" (place, not persons) and "killed 90 - 95 million Native Americans." That wording doesn't point a finger at the descendants of "Europeans", and doesn't use a euphemism for the deaths of Native Americans.

For example, "Spanish Influenza" If the disease "is known as... the Flu of 1918," then call it that, don't use an ethnic/nationality label unnecessarily, particularly given the association of "Spanish" nationality with "Spanish" language, where the latter is already used as an attack-symbol by bigots in the USA against Mexican immigrants. If you think this is too nit-picky, interview anyone in the advertising industry about the incredibly detailed thoughtfulness they put into major brand ad campaigns.

"Typhoid Mary." Oh boy, now let's go after women too! Of all the things that could have been said about the history of typhoid, why highlight the story that has a woman as its villain?

Malaria: "the pesticide DDT, now banned, was originally introduced to lower mosquito population." Great way to boost enthusiasm for bringing back DDT! Try this: "Early pesticides such as DDT were used to eradicate mosquitos. Today, safer pesticides and preventive control measures are used."

Polio: Now you have the vaccine depicted as a hypodermic pointing upward, but it's still got the red area inside, with a strong similarity to the hypodermics with the red areas and names of diseases inside. The stupidity, it burns! This is like an ad agency that tries to promote a new beer by juxtaposing the color of the beer with a similar color of urine in a toilet, and using the slogan, "You won't buy our beer, you'll rent it!"

Tuberculosis: Using the skull-and-crossbones next to the stuff about "patients with" HIV/AIDS, associates HIV/AIDS patients with the universal symbol for poison. Key point: the sentence begins with "Patients with..." Dump the skull & bones, change the sentence to "HIV/AIDS and other causes of weakened immunity, make patients more susceptible to TB."

And on the HIV/AIDS slide, there's that skull & bones again. Sheesh!

Really: contact whoever is putting those things out, and tell them they need to trash the lot of 'em and do a total re-make. Good infographics are great, but truly crappy ones are worse than nothing.


Thats really cool, G. I was just looking at it like: Data! Pretty graphics! YAY!

I didnt think about *any of that*, and I will pass it on to the creator ;)

Hi ERV- Sorry if I was harsh, and thanks for sending the critique along. I agree it's easy to look at stuff like this and think "Yay!, graphics and message, we're getting the word out!" But I have clients in the ad industry and through our conversations I've become much more aware of how messaging works when it succeeds, and how it can backfire spectacularly. Emotional associations, similarities in graphical objects, etc. etc., every subtlety you can think of and dozens more, all go into crafting messages that work.

Here's an example I use often:

Automobile ad on TV shows family piling into a new car and loading up luggage, while announcer talks about the spacious interior and other details. At the end, the family dog hops in the car and they drive off. Surface message: Yes this car has a spacious interior. Emotional narrative: happy family going on vacation. The latter sells plenty of cars, even when buyers quote the former as their rationale for buying.

If I had time I'd be willing to email you a much more detailed rundown on every aspect of those graphics, and specific suggestions to make them more effective. As it is, I'm taking a brief break from work (on Saturday night) and my schedule's nasty all week.

But once your friend understands the critiques, s/he will be much more aware of the kinds of things that count, and will probably be able to do a darn good job with revision 2.0.

Without commenting on whether this is a "good" or "bad" infographic, by coincidence, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal recently posted a comic about infographics:

By Nick Theodorakis (not verified) on 10 Nov 2013 #permalink

Grr, argh, hate this kind of infographic, so hard to track down sources, and they almost always have at least a couple of pieces of bad info. For example, the (potential) 59% of Americans with immunity to H1N1 has nothing to do with the Spanish flu, they're talking about immunity to the 2009 pandemic flu. Fortunately in this case it was relatively easy to figure out the source, since one of the URLs they cite actually has an informative title, and then I just had to track down the *real* source since that was an unsourced blurb. But sometimes it's a huge pain.

They give a veneer of facts and authority that may or may not be legitimate, and they seem to almost always rely on whatever web pages came up in a quick Google search for their sources. Maybe I'm too hard on them but they just rub me the wrong way.