From Cave Paintings to Websites – The Evolution of the Infographic

You might think that the history of the infographic is closely related to the history of the internet, as it is the World Wide Web that has made these visual representations of data more popular. However, the concept of the infographic has been around for far much longer than the internet.

An infographic (short for information graphic) is a visual representation of information or knowledge. By putting information in a visual format, it is must easier to convey complex information in a clear and easy to understand way. An infographic can explain a concept or convey data that it would take pages and pages of text to describe.


So what are the first examples of infographics in human history? Many might think that the first infographics were shared on Twitter and Facebook, but the truth is that mankind has been creating infographics since the beginning of our existence. However, it is the dawn of the internet age that has made infographics more popular and there are even companies such as SkyRocket SEO Ltd that specialise in creating original custom infographics for their clients.

Google Maps Catalhoyuk

Some researchers say that the very first infographics were the symbolic languages that emerged in Ancient Egypt and other regions in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. In 7500 BCE, an ancient map at a Neolithic Site called Catalhoyuk in Turkey was created. This is almost 5000 years before the Great Pyramids were built and this map is considered to one of the first examples of an infographic.

Catalhoyuk, which was once a settlement of southern Anatolia, is the best preserved and largest Neolithic site in the world and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The settlement consists of domestic buildings mostly, some of which have fascinating and ornate murals. An estimated 5,000 to 8,000 people lived here in this community.

Within one of the murals is an ancient image that resembles a map. A map is an infographic, because it conveys complex information about the surroundings in a visual format. The map at Catalhoyuk is thought to be a plan of the Neolithic village.

Ugg “Likes” Your Buffalo Slaughter

However, some researchers might argue that the very first infographics were painted on the walls of caves in what is now modern-day Spain and France. For example, there are images of horses and other animals that cover the walls of the well-known prehistoric site of Chauvet, which dates back 25,000 years.

These images, painted by Neolithic cavemen, are thought to be intended to convey information about hunting and obtaining food.

A Slice of Your Pie Graph – William Playfair’s Contribution

Most modern infographics use bar graphs, histograms, line graphs and other such data graphs to convey information effectively. These types of visual information formats allow us to take raw numbers and data and present them in a visual form. Graphs such as this help us to see trends, such as an increase over time related to a certain factor.

William Playfair, a Scottish political economist and engineer, published the very first data graphs in his book “The Commercial and Political Atlas” in 1790. He was conveying information about the economy of 18th Century England and he used line graphics, pie charts and other visual graph formats. He is credited with being the first to ever use these tools.

Scientists and doctors began to use these charts to depict their findings. For example, famous nurse Florence Nightingale created a series of charts that helped her to successfully encourage reforms in hospitals.

Charts were also used for military purposes. For example, Charles Joseph Minard showed four changing variables in a two dimensional chart which explained the decline of the Grand Armee in 1861 as they marched against Moscow.

The Pioneer Plaque – Out of this World!

The great thing about an infographic is that it can be understood without any need for words. This means that it can be understood by someone who speaks a different language and perhaps even someone from another planet.

This is the idea behind the Pioneer Plaque, which is perhaps the very first example of an infographic that is intended to be understood by non-human creatures. It was designed by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan and it was launched into space upon the 1972 Pioneer Probe.

The plaque depicts nude figures of a human male and a female, along with other symbols and visual information that is intended to explain the origin of the probe to any extra-terrestrial being that might read it.

Infographics are here to Stay

From Neolithic cave paintings to ancient maps to economic diagrams and messages shared with the far reaches of space, the infographic has had a long and complex evolution within our culture. This comes as no surprise, as they are such an effective way to convey complex information.

Now that we use the internet to communicate with each other, infographics will become even more popular. Between the years of 2011 and 2013, an average of 110 new infographics every day were created and published for the world to see. Perhaps this number will only increase as time goes on and information becomes even more accessible and easy to share.

Chris Hoole is a freelance writer and science fiction geek. He is interested in history, cartography and travel and he likes to write about communication and technology. 

Mars Cureg

Web designer by profession, photography hobbyist, T-shirt lover, design blog founder, gamer. Socially and physically awkward, lack of social skills, struggles to communicate with anyone who doesn't have a keyboard. Willing to walk to get to the promised land. Photo and video freelancer, SEO. Check out more on my Google+

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  • Dezayo

    Very nice!