Why #highered institutions should give infographics a second look

March 1st, 2011 Karine Joly 9 Comments

A picture is worth a thousand words.

But, what about an infographic?

Rumor has they might be worth millions of dollars – which is probably why they have multiplied like crazy for the past few months. A good one can get you featured on Mashable, the Holy Grail of online PR. It can result in thousands of retweets, likes, links and clicks. No wonder the online education lead generation industry – among others – has been churning infographics out like there’s no tomorrow.

While I was doing research for the online graduate course about social media campaigns I’m currently designing and writing for SNHU, I stumbled upon this great one created by BuzzFeed (and published on TechCrunch) last September. This infographic does a really good job at explaining the mechanics behind this business of infographics (it’s long, so please scroll down even if you don’t read it, to see where I want to go with this).

Infographics about infographics

If you set aside the keyword spamming part, this looks like a really smart way to get some recognition by repackaging and sharing interesting data.

So, how come higher ed institutions don’t use this tactic yet?

Knowledge, expertise, research data and study results are aplenty in colleges and universities.
While graphics skills might not be as widespread, they can be identified inside or outside the institution as well.

The editor of your institutional magazine might even be able to help find a resource for your next infographics.

Higher ed magazine editors have started to incorporate more of them within the columns of their print publications. Jeffrey Lott shared a great example last November at the CASE Conference for Publication Professionals in New Orleans. Jeff had included this great infographic (created by Nigel Holmes/Explanations Graphics) in the October 2010 issue of his magazine, Swarthmore’s Bulletin, to present the Class of 2014.

I don’t think this type of information – while very relevant for all your constituents – would get a lot of coverage or links (although it might on local media or websites and would be a hit for prospective students or parents).

However, research findings, student projects or even data about academic programs presented this way will definitely get more online mileage than they would if they were only packaged as a press release or a web page.

To make this work, the infographic should have a Share Alike Creative Common License with a sharing code easy to copy and paste. This will ensure that people can embed your infographic on their websites, blogs or share it on Facebook, Twitter and the likes.

So, what do you think? Am I onto something? Have you heard of any institutions already using infographics this way? Share with the rest of the class by posting a comment!

9 Responses

  1. You’re definitely on to something here, Karine. Infographics are a terrific tool for presenting information at a glance. I think one of the challenges many of us face in higher ed is the lack of staffing to create such infographics. Not many of us can afford to hire illustrators, or to turn our graphic designers into infographic illustrators, without giving up something. This may change, however, as the use of infographics becomes more widespread. For our alumni magazine, we do occasionally hire illustrators to create infographics that help explain or clarify complex research processes. But we haven’t yet attempted to do anything like Swarthmore (an excellent example, by the way).

    Just for grins, I thought I’d share this fun infographic about infographics.

  2. Karine Joly says:

    I know it takes resources and time to design and produce good infographics, but I really think that a good infographic produced for the university magazine could be repurposed on the Web and get some online legs.

    Content strategy for the win (and smaller budgets!)

    It’s all about planning ahead – and stopping silo thinking ;-)

  3. Stephen Mangat says:

    I think this would be great for the uses you outlined. This is how to adapt the alumni magazine to the modern world. Well done.

  4. Dan Woychick says:


    An infographic can be a very effective way to clarify complex issues, and they have become ubiquitous on the web.

    I can imagine universities taking advantage of this format, but I haven’t seen it very often. A few years ago, the University of Vermont website had some fantastic animated infographics that took really dry, unengaging content (student/faculty ratio, etc.) and made it really dynamic. Alas, they are no longer there.

    As Andrew mentioned, making a good graphic is no small task, so you’d need to pick your spots. My pet peeve is the infographic that is all dressed up — lines, arrows, images … wow! — but really doesn’t add to the understanding of the subject. With the infographic explosion, I’m seeing this more and more.

    Another reason there aren’t more infographics in higher ed? Here’s a tongue-in-cheek look at institutionalized inertia: http://bit.ly/ejBlVX

  5. To steal a line from Realtors, the three most important things about infographics is content, content, content.

    Before coming to higher education I was a newspaper designer. Infographics help tell the story and sometimes can be a stand-alone element on a page. It is important that the graphic is done for the reader so they can understand and make sense of content. Never think about the graphic going viral or winning an award before thinking about content, your readers or while producing it.

    The Society of News Design has lots of resources on their web site. Check out their Toolkit http://toolkit.snd.org/ it may help you give your readers better content.

  6. […] the complete package looks really great, I really liked the infographics (a new pet peeve of mine) used to present some important […]

  7. Hi, we are just beginning to produce an infographic video for our College of Business at University of Michigan-Dearborn. We hired the creative – as noted, we do not have in-house creative talent. I found that estimates for this work varied greatly – found an awesome young smart creative for a good price. I will share the work when completed!

  8. […] Swarthmore’s Class of 2014 by the Numbers by Swarthmore College via CollegeWebEditor.com […]

  9. […] As I wrote on this blog a few months ago, I really believe infographics are a great vehicule to share research data. So, feel free to use the embed code to share it even further. […]

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