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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington Study Highlights the Potential Power of Infographics

Researchers and visual designers should work together to create infographics that can convey complex scientific information on key issues, says a new study from the University of Washington School of Public Health.

Wild fish seafood graphic_Petz
[Illustration: Infographic by Mr. Jason Petz of the University of Washington]

Such partnerships are not common but are needed to make an impression on busy policymakers who are inundated with information, says Dr. Jennifer Otten, assistant professor of health services and first author of the article, which appears in Health Affairs.

“Infographics provide an effective means to communicate health and nutrition data to decision-makers, who need high-quality information but in bite-size and readily accessible forms,” Dr. Otten and her co- authors write.

The authors note that infographics can be fast and effective because visual processing is the brain’s most dominant capacity. “The human visual system is so well developed that people can get the sense of a visual scene in less than one-tenth of a second,” they write.

There’s nothing new about infographics. Mr. William Playfair, an 18th-century Scottish engineer and economist, invented the line chart, bar graph and pie chart, the authors note. What has changed is the broad range of data and digital tools and the amount of information directed toward policymakers.

Researchers at the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington School of Public Health teamed with graduate and undergraduate students of the UW’s Visual Communication Design program to create three food-related infographics featured in the journal article.

One illustrates the problem of food waste in the U.S. and suggests possible policy solutions. Another shows the three main methods by which fish are harvested in the U.S. A third traces the use of corn in America. Each is designed to be either persuasive, explanatory, or editorial.

Co-authors were Ms. Karen Cheng, professor of visual communication design, and Dr. Adam Drewnowski, professor of epidemiology.