Who has the best chance of understanding infographics?

This was the ques­tion my disser­ta­tion ended up answer­ing. It wasn’t neces­sar­ily the ques­tion I star­ted with, but hey, that’s science. Or some­thing like it.

The answer is (depend­ing on the type of infographic):

  • A man
  • of above aver­age numeracy
  • with a doctoral-level degree
  • between 45 and 54 years old.

Apart from this singu­larly unhelp­ful cari­ca­ture, this is what else I found.

1. If you want to be clear, use writ­ten percentages.

Use percentages in your infographicsNot ratios. Certainly not graph­ics. If you have a number that can be expressed as a percent­age, do that. They came away as by far the most clearly under­stood means of repres­ent­a­tion in this exper­i­ment. 77% of the time, where a percent­age was the correct answer, you lovely people answered correctly. For graph­ics, you only answered correctly 69% of the time.

69% isn’t that bad, you might say, and no, it’s not. So I might recom­mend that if you are using graph­ics (and who does­n’t, these days), then perhaps you should back them up with other figures so people know what they’re look­ing at. The evid­ence? When the ques­tion asked my survey parti­cipants to compare a graphic with another graphic, they only got the answer right 63% of the time.

This is, of course, if you want to appeal to both genders. If you just want to appeal to men, use ratios. They got them right 82% of the time.

2. Girls can’t do maths (until they get a doctorate)

Girls need to learn more maths.I feel terrible saying this. Especially as I’m a girl who hasn’t got a doctor­ate. Who really likes maths. Even if I’m not very good at it.

It was genu­inely the most surpris­ing result I had and one that I feel needs imme­di­ate atten­tion because girls maths teach­ing must be completely messed up. There is a small amount of encour­age­ment in that ladies over the age of 45 seem worst affected, but that does­n’t mean the rest of us aren’t in trouble.

Across the board, regard­less of any of the vari­ables meas­ured — numer­acy levels, educa­tion, age — girls doing the test never got a look in. They consist­ently answered more ques­tions incor­rectly. For ques­tions involving graph­ics, women got 66% right. Men got 75%. For ratios, women got 68% correct, for men it was 82%. The only one close was percent­ages — 76% for women compared with 80% for men.

Sadly my survey wasn’t detailed enough to get at any more useful nuggets of inform­a­tion — like which girls had taken maths at A‑level and beyond, so I’m not able to pry any further into this with my results alone. But can some­body else do this? Please? It needs more research, as people like to say.

3. Having qual­i­fic­a­tions does­n’t make a blind bit of differ­ence (unless you’re a doctor)

Doctor doctor, can you help me? Probably.The results say that people who didn’t go to univer­sity, under­gradu­ates and masters degree students have essen­tially no differ­ences when it comes to the math­em­at­ical under­stand­ing needed to prop­erly inter­pret these kinds of graph­ics. The number of correct answers for people with any of these levels of qual­i­fic­a­tion hovers around the 73% mark.

Having a doctor­ate on the other­hand, does. Understanding posit­ively leaps to the dizzy­ing height of 82%. It even levels the play­ing fields for women. How about that?

Turn to page 2 for the boring science-ish bits and access to the data.

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Corinne Pritchard

Information Designer at Simply Understand
I believe design and design­ers can and should make the world a better place. I love design­ing things that help people under­stand complex ideas.

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3 thoughts on “Who has the best chance of understanding infographics?

  1. I had forgot­ten about taking this survey until I read this post! thank you for “report­ing back” and telling us the results :-)

    1. I love infograph­ics when they are dgneised prop­erly, but I really can’t stand the ones where you have to scroll up and down, up and down, up and down, well you get the point.Those ones are like movies that go from begin­ning to end to begin­ning to the middle, then back to the begin­ning, then to the end, and then ending in the middle.Confused? Yeah, me too.Derek Maak recently posted..

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