Lesons learned from air travel infographics: why simple and accurate is best

Posted on March 30, 2011 by



A series of infographics with a consumer focus featured on the Reuters website this week, taken from travel blog Nile Guide. The focus was on the state of air travel and how the customer experience has decreased in the last 60 years. They wanted to show how air travel has changed – how what used to be a glamorous experience with gourmet meals and attentive flight attendants has been replaced with Ryan Air-style cramped seating and overpriced coffee.

Nile Guide took what they saw as the measurable contributing factors in the decline in air travel service – leg room, fare, number of passengers per flight, safety, and cost – presenting the findings in basic black and white infographics.

The result was a mixed bag. In general it showed that the simplest infographics are often the best in terms of adding value to the story and that accuracy, as in all types of journalism, is key.

Aeroplane leg-room graphic from nileguide.com

The leg-room diagram shows clearly how much less space there is for air passengers now. In order for users to get the most out of this sort of infographic, the images need to be accurate and comparable. In this case, the bottom diagram is bigger, which distorts the data, making the seats seem even closer together compared with the top diagram. Having the images at the same scale would make this much more useful for users to directly compare the 1960s with 2000s.

Aeroplane food graphic from nileguide.com

The food triangle is confusing – where is the data? Does the decreasing point in the triangle reflect the decreasing amount of food served now on airlines? If so, by how much is it decreasing? Also the diagrams of pigs and chickens do little aid to understanding of how food has changed. In order to understand this graphic, users need to read the large chunks of accompanying text, which make sense on their own. This defeats the point of having infographics to help convey the information.

Aeroplane passenger load graphic from nileguide.com

“Load factor” or the number of passengers is better because it clearly shows with stick people how many more people are packed onto planes now. Simple, but effective.

Aeroplane safety and cost graphic from nileguide.com

The safety and cost diagrams use good statistics, but merely placing numbers around an image of an aeroplane give no extra value to the story that writing the figures out in a news report. Infographics is about showing not telling – a simple bar graph would have added more to the story showing the decreasing number of accidents and cost to fly.