Graphical excellence is that which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space. – Edward Tufte

By John Lavey

Whatever results come from the current legislative fight over the future of the Affordable Care Act, one thing is certain: This healthcare debate will be remembered for the sheer volume of visual graphics intended to translate dense data into charts and graphs that don’t require a degree in statistics to understand. Pioneered in the 1970s by graphic designers like Nigel Holmes and academic statisticians like Edward Tufte, this broad variety of data visualizations are now generally called “infographics.” (Except by Tufte and Holmes.)

Unfortunately, much of the healthcare debate infographics proliferating newspapers, magazines, blogs and email newsletters are less than informative. They are graphical, yes, but they aren’t necessarily informational.

What’s the difference? When I’ve sat with my phone and randomly started a text box full of emojis, I’ve created a meaningless graphic. But a text from my wife or daughter that uses an emoji to tell me they love me or the dog pooped in the house? That’s an infographic.

In healthcare marketing, I’ve witnessed amazing examples of simple infographics that help communicate highly complex information. They follow principles espoused by Tufte, the patron saint of graphical elegance that advances ideas. After seeing Edward Tufte speak in Nashville ten years ago, I’ve kept his two books, Visual Explanations and The Visual Display of Quantitative Graphics within easy reach in my office. Hammock’s team of designers are constantly studying ways to meet Tufte’s standards.

Here’s an example of a healthcare policy infographic from the news service Axios. It simply tells the story of the insured and uninsured in America, and clearly explains who is meant with the term, “people with pre-existing conditions.” It is smart story telling because the designer has, if you look closely, converted a bar chart into a recognizable healthcare symbol, the cross. It explains in a simple, yet creative way, the type of data that can easily overwhelm an audience.

Advice for improving your visualizations (infographics):

Here are three things to consider if you want graphics that simplify the story found in data and statistics.

  1. Infographics should start with the info, not the graphics. Make sure that your statistical story is correctly and accurately told with this short list of metaphor charts and graphs: pie, bar and line. Beyond statistics, limit your infographics’ role to explaining these four types of information: location, time, category and hierarchy.
  2. Ask a few people who have not been involved in creating the graphic, but who fit the profile of the intended audience, to look at the infographic and explain the story it tells. Do they explain it correctly? If not, your graphic needs more work.
  3. Follow the golden rule of visualizations (and joke telling): If you need to explain the graphic, it doesn’t work.


Image: Edward R. Tufte: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
Photo Credit: Iwan Gabovitch/Flickr

About Hammock Healthcare Idea Email |
This post is part of Hammock’s award-winning Idea Email series. Idea Emails are sent every other week and share one insightful marketing idea. Idea Email comes in two flavors: Original and Healthcare. To subscribe to the original Idea Email (general marketing ideas), click here . To subscribe to the Healthcare Idea Email (healthcare marketing ideas), click here.

Last week we somehow missed the news that Hammock won a fourth APEX award, this one on behalf of its client BNP Solutions.

BNP Media’s eBook on Integrated Media Campaigns won an APEX award of excellence in the category of Electronic Publications.

By Rex Hammock

As a marketer, no doubt you’ve noticed an increase in the use of the term “brand story” during the past decade. We have. In fact, for several years, the first thing you’d see when entering our offices were these words displayed on the wall: “Your story starts here …”

By John Lavey | Hammock President and COO

Ten years ago today, Rex Hammock stood in line at the Green Hills Apple store and bought a couple of the brand new iPhones. I received one.

Hammock won three awards on behalf of its clients in the 2017 APEX Awards competition, including its 14th Grand Award for American Spirit, the magazine of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Hammock has been the DAR’s publishing partner since 2002. The Source, HealthTrust’s member magazine, also won an Award of Excellence.

Projects that received awards were:

Grand Award for Feature Writing for “Long May She Wave: The Story of Annin Flagmakers” in the July/Aug 2016 American Spirit

Award of Excellence for the cover of the March/April 2017 American Spirit, featuring its seventh annual issue devoted to Women’s History Month

Award of Excellence for Custom-Published Magazines: The Source Q3 2016

APEX Awards are based on excellence in graphic design, editorial content and the ability to achieve overall communications excellence. APEX Grand Awards honor the outstanding works in each main category, while APEX Awards of Excellence recognize exceptional entries in each of the individual categories.

There’s only one expert who can determine success of the media and content you create for your customers and prospects.

That expert is not found in your C-suite or the departments that oversee marketing, communications, sales or technology. Nor is that expert a consultant, agency, thought leader, keynote speaker, guru or sender of Idea emails.

By John Lavey | Hammock President and COO

A typical sales call never goes exactly as planned. You may have worked hard to ensure that all decision-makers would be in the room for your presentation. Only after you arrive, do you sometimes learn that a key attendee won’t be present.

Someone typically minimizes the importance of the absence, remarking, “Just email your presentation deck, and we’ll share that with [missing person].” This statement should set off alarm bells in your mind. However well-intended that statement may be, don’t head down that path.

By Rex Hammock, CEO

Because an Idea Email is sent every other week to subscribers across the United States and globally, we try to keep our references universal, not local. But when something big happens a few blocks from the Nashville office we call Hammock HQ, we can’t help wanting to share.

And no, I’m not talking about the unprecedented way in which locals (including us) have gone nuts over the success of the Nashville Predators and their first appearance in the finals of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoff (#GoPreds).

By John Lavey | Hammock President and COO

Accept the reality that your competitors will have a shot at making a case to your prospective customer. Embracing that idea can give you a powerful content opportunity: helping your prospect shop.

By Rex Hammock, CEO

From its ho-hum reception by critics and moviegoers, I may be the only person you know who has seen the social media-themed film, The Circle. Despite excellent performances by Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, its dystopian plot lacks some key backstory elements that make the Dave Eggers novel on which it is based a far more compelling story.