Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Corporate responsibility infographics - the good, the bad and the ugly

Data visualization, or the creation of "infographics", has been gradually seeping into the corporate responsibility world. And its no surprise. When their designers get it right, infographics can tell you an important story in a wonderfully accessible way using cool, hard facts. But when they get it wrong, it's just, well..... a mess. Too much data and it is confusing; too little and it risks being banal. And using the wrong data can simply discredit the whole enterprise from the beginning.

So what does a good corporate responsibility infographic actually look like then? We've been taking a good look at the craze for infographics, and picked out some of the best and the worst that relate to corporate responsibility issues. There are more and more appearing every day, so we're not claiming to provide anything like an exhaustive review, but here are a few examples that we think give a good flavor of the potential and pitfalls of turning business ethics into pictures. And if you don't agree with us, then please tell us why in the comments field ..... or better still, create an infographic to explain it all!

The Good

There has been a few corporate taxation infographics doing the rounds in the last couple of months. What we like about this one from onlinemba.com though is the funky design (you've gotta love that faux factory styling), the solid citations, and the clear storyline. Yes, it takes a fairly hardline anti-business stance, but it doesn't pretend the answers are obvious or simple.

How Corporations Get Out of Paying Taxes

Another powerful infographic is this one detailing the role that pharmaceutical companies play in influencing doctors to prescribe their medicines. We like it because although it is a little on the long side (click on the image for the full image) it tackles an important question; it is controversial without being sensationalist (again, the referencing is pretty tight), the design is smart, and it rounds out the story with advice on what you can do to make a difference. Let's call it activism meets journalism.

Of course, infographics can be a lot more than just simply static visuals. And they don't have to be critical of business! Videos, animations, music and all kinds of possibilities are out there to tell corporate responsibility stories in interesting ways. We like this one from Fortune and CNN because it offers some nice simple interactivity about something all of us care about - what makes some places better to work in than others. Based on Fortune's annual 'Best companies to work for' survey, it not only shows which companies score well, but also lets you search the kinds of words that employees use to describe their companies - the top ones being "people", "time", "family" and benefit". But some of the cross-company comparisons are really interesting. Whilst top spot holder SAS includes words like "care", "life" and "health", Goldman Sacks at 23 emphasizes words like "best", "firm", "people" and "individual". Just goes to show that what makes a firm good to work for is very much in the eye of the beholder.

The Bad

Corporate tax dodging again. But this time the infographic is less successful. Sure it has an easy to understand message, but it doesn't have the richness of data to be authoritative. For a start it doesn't cite its sources, which immediately threatens some of its credibility. Second, it doesn't look to explain any of the facts it presents, but instead relies on some slightly shonky political posturing. Good infographics should make you feel like you've read an informed newspaper article. This comes across more like a bumper sticker.

Corporate Tax Cheats Are Bankrupting America infographic
Source: US Uncut - No Cuts Until Corporate Tax Cheats Pay Up!

The Ugly

Sometimes, not even well researched corporate responsibility infographics hit the mark. Getting the balance right between telling a clear story and getting the facts on the table can be tricky. We wanted to love this incredibly informative infographic about the BP oil spill from 2010 by Carol Zuber-Mallison but frankly it just doesn't cut it like it should. It's simply too crammed with data. Sure, it tries to describe a complex situation of corporate responsibility, but if infographics are going to be successful they've got to render that complexity easily understandable in a single narrative. This tries to cover too much. Plus, given all the data, the referencing could be better. How else is anyone supposed to check the facts? So although this is an impressive effort in many respects - especially the crazily ambitious attempt to update it in real time - it's ultimately an infographic fail. Too much info, not enough graphic.

1 comment:

  1. An increasing number of companies and clients are recognizing the benefits of infographics and want their data jazzed up and dressed for the prom. They know that their assiduously compiled information has a far better chance of being read, appreciated, shared and widely circulated if it looks less like an annual report. Thanks a lot.


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