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It is the norm for newspapers worldwide to present information in the form of a combination of text and images.

Although readers frequently encounter complex compositions in newspapers and elsewhere, there is still very little empirical evidence about how these formats are processed.

Media people supposedly present information to readers under the assumption that every one of their readers knows how to read both visuals and text without any difficulty.

Newspaper layout, for instance, contains text articles, headlines, photos, captions, tickers, drop quotes, fact boxes, maps, diagrams, tables etc.

How do readers interact with each format and combine information from all the available sources to create coherence?

A recent research paper on the subject aptly raises concern by declaring that, ‘While there is a wealth of literature dealing with fixation patterns both in reading and in picture perception, little data exists on the viewing of pictures and text in combination as they often occur in instructional materials, news media, aertising, multimedia content, etc.’.

However, despite the difficulties experienced by some readers in making sense of text-images combos, Infographics have become prominent features of today’s newspapers.

Information graphic or infographic is a visual medium used by scientists, technicians, teachers and journalists for explaining news as well as inventions, theories, games, accidents or structures of buildings, machines and living beings.

The purpose of using information graphic is to illustrate and clarify difficult issues so that the readers can more easily conceptualise and understand complex structural aspects, stages of a process, as well as effects and causes of an action.

It is often used for popular explanations in technical contexts, particularly in the natural sciences and in the domain of medicine. In medical contexts, information graphics often illustrate location and function of inner organs, causes and effects of injuries, medical treatment etc.

Traditionally, information graphic is formed as a unit, consisting of textual and pictorial components that are attached to or embedded in a text article with the same or similar contents.

An information graphic usually consists of three components — text of various complexity such as key words, phrases, sentences, text paragraphs, pictures on various levels of detail from abstract to naturalistic, and graphical means such as arrows, movement lines, zoom boxes, highlighting devices etc.

An information graphic fulfils several functions that, for example, photos cannot fulfil: it shows things under the surface it helps the reader to conceptualise how something is constructed or how something functions it explains dynamic processes step by step it creates a coupling between parts of the whole while depicting several perspectives at once.

Infographic also makes use of graphs, diagrams, statistics and other visual representations.

An information graphic contains a specialised form of partly abstract depictions that require a certain level of graphicacy from the reader and have to be learned.

In addition, the process relations between the components are often made explicit with the help of multiple depictions, arrows, or movement lines.

Since 2006, when Zimpapers Media Group launched city.com, a part of the company’s Saturday paper edition, graphic representations have gradually grown into a significant part of news presentation in Zimbabwe.

Though graphic designers hardly consider scientific implications of their art, reading of graphics can be traced to theories on eye movement.

Eye movements are seen as providing an unobtrusive, sensitive, real-time behavioural index of ongoing visual and cognitive processing giving an insight in the allocation of attention.

Eye-tracking methodology can therefore be used to examine how readers choose entry points and reading paths and how they integrate text and pictures.

Because the eye is used to reading from left to right, successful graphics arrange information such that the eye is ‘led’ across the paper.

Apart from cave paintings and old maps, the history of information graphics goes back to Leonardo da Vinci’s explicative drawings from around 1500 and to William Playfair’s economic charts and diagrams in the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.

A well known infographic containing a combination of text and graphics was published in Time in 1806 and described a crime from a plan view of a house where the owner had been murdered.

The best-known statistical infographic depicted Napoleon’s march to Moscow, and was designed by Charles-Joseph Minard in 1861.

It contains a map, and it captures four different variables: the army’s march direction, the location of the troops, the decreasing size of the army, and the falling air temperature.

In the early 1900s, the Austrian economist and sociologist Otto Neurath created a system of pictorial symbols, termed ‘Isotype’ to be used as a universal visual language.

Later, information graphics played an important role in explaining events during the 2nd World War when photographs were not available.

They became particularly invaluable during the Falklands War, Chernobyl and the Gulf War.

The ‘first revolution’ in the use of infographics is often attributed to the use of computers and powerful software, while the ‘second revolution’ is attributed to the arrival of Internet and animations.

In Zimbabwe, we can safely conclude that the only revolution in infographics can be traced back to Zimpapers’ flexibility in recognising the need to incorporate ‘new media’ when in the mid 2000s, it took the first steps in creating new packages for news presentation.

Source : The Herald