Comparing Effectiveness and Engagement of Data Comics and Infographics

This paper compares the effectiveness of data comics and infographics for data-driven storytelling. While infographics are widely used, comics are increasingly popular for explaining complex and scientific concepts.

However, empirical evidence comparing the effectiveness and engagement of infographics, comics and illustrated texts is still lacking. We report on the results of two complementary studies, one in a controlled setting and one in the wild. Our results suggest participants largely prefer data comics in terms of enjoyment, focus, and overall engagement and that comics improve understanding and recall of information in the stories. Our findings help to understand the respective roles of the investigated formats as well as inform the design of more effective data comics and infographics.

Study Materials for Lab Study

1. Renewables’ Mix in Power Generation in Europe

Illustrated Texts

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A3_ABC_画板 1 副本



2. King’s Alliances and Aggressions in Dullama (735-813)

Illustrated Texts

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3. The Global Interest Rate and Tax Burden

Illustrated Texts

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Tax_A3_B_画板 1



Study Materials for In-the-wild Study

1. The Global Water Footprint


Global Water Footprint



2. The Carbon Atlas


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Infographic屏幕快照 2018-09-20 12.32.28.png

Comprehension Questions Used in The Lab Study

(CORRECT ANSWERS in the bolt-Italy)

1. Renewables’ Mix in Power Generation in Europe

Which type of resource takes the highest percentage in Europe?

A. Fossil B. Renewable C. Nuclear D. I’m not sure

Which statement is true regarding the changes from 2011 to 2017?

A. The renewables percentage in EU electricity generation has decreased by 30%

B. The renewables percentage in EU electricity generation has decreased by 82%

C. The renewables percentage in EU electricity generation has increased by 30%

D. The renewables percentage in EU electricity generation has increased by 82%

E. I’m not sure

Which country has the highest proportion of electricity production generated from renewables?

A. Finland B. Germany C. Portugal D. Denmark E. I’m not sure

What is the geographical distribution characteristics of renewables production in EU?

A. Western countries have higher percentages than that of eastern countries

B. Coastal countries have higher percentages than that of inland countries

C. Rich countries have higher percentages than that of poor countries

D. Peripheral countries have higher percentages than that of central countries

E. I’m not sure

Which country grows the fastest over 2011 to 2017 among Belgium, Croatia and Romania?

A. Belgium B. Croatia C. Romania D. I’m not sure

What does the number on the top of the columns indicate?

A. Absolute percentage of renewable in 2017.

B. Increase in percent of renewables in 2017.

C. Combined percent of renewables of 2011 plus 2017.

D. The percent of the energy produced through the resource in 2017.

E. I’m not sure

2. King’s Alliances and Aggressions in Dullama (735-813)

Which is the correct order of alliances?

A. Nic, Anthony and Greg Triple League —> George, Greg and Stephen Three Kings Alliance —> George, Stephen and Kevin Triple Union

B. Nic, Anthony and Greg Triple League —> George, Stephen and Kevin Triple Union —> George, Greg and Stephen Three Kings Alliance

C. George, Greg and Stephen Three Kings Alliance —> George, Stephen and Kevin Triple Union —> Nic, Anthony and Greg Triple League

D. George, Greg and Stephen Three Kings Alliance —> Nic, Anthony and Greg Triple League —> George, Stephen and Kevin Triple Union

E. I’m not sure

Which King was isolated when the Three King Alliance was created in 772?

A. Chris B. Nic C. Kevin D. Sheila E. Sheila

Which statement is right about the situation analysis in 806?

A. Kings in the northeast were at war, and regional conflicts broke out in the southeast area.

B. Major unions were from the northwest, but kingdoms in the southeast were having regional conflicts.

C. Major powers in the southeast were in unions, while regional conflicts broke out in the northeast.

D. Most major powers were at war.

E. I’m not sure

Who attacked first in 813?

A. Sheila attacked Stephen

B. George attacked Greg

C. Stephen attacked Sheila

D. George attacked Nic

E. I’m not sure

Compared to 806, which King left Triple Union in 813?

A. George B. Stephen C. Kevin D. I’m not sure

What does the black dashed relation represent?

A. Regional conflict B. Alliances C.Aggression D. War E. I’m not sure

3. The Global Interest Rate and Tax Burden

What is the characteristic of the countries in 1962?

A. Developed countries had high interest rate and high tax burden, developing countries have low interest rate and low tax burden

B. Developed countries had high interest rate and low tax burden, developing countries have low interest rate and high tax burden

C. Most countries have low interest rate and high tax burden

D. Most countries have low interest rate and low tax burden

E. I’m not sure

Which country (countries) changed the most quickly in Asia towards higher interest and lighter tax burden from 1962 to 1980?

A. China B. Indonesia and India C. Countries from Latin America D. African countries E. I’m not sure.

The tax burden reduced in which country (countries) due to currency policy?

A. India B. African countries C. Developed countries D. China and Bangladesh E. I’m not sure

During what time did African countries suffer from the crisis?

A. From 1962 to 1980 B. From 1980 to 1990 C. From 1990 to 2000 D. From 2000 to 2015

E. I’m not sure

Compared to 1990 to 2000, African countries tend to have _______ interest rate and _______ tax burden from 2000 to 2015.

A. higher, higher B.higher, lower C. lower, higher D. lower, lower E. I’m not sure.

Which colour is used to present countries in Latin America?

A. Green B. Blue C. Red D. Yellow E. I’m not sure

Interview quotations

Positive and negative comments about each technique

Text and Pictures

Summarized Report (numbers of participants mentioned that)


  • Readers can quickly obtain a whole story from texts and they can see the picture when needed (#4)

    • P27: You can get a good overview quickly
    • P12: If its abstract of data,  the written word is the most appropriate because you get the entire story and then sort of check it against the graph.
  • The classic and traditional representation familiar to most people (#4)

    • P10: This one here with texts is easier too much, it looks like a proper history book about the ancient century with lots of notions, names and dates.
    • P13: This is what I used to.
    • P14: This is quite common.
  • It looks clean (#2)

    • P3: it’s good to have not much text and detailed information. The figure is just helping comprehend the text


  • Readers always looking back and forth to confirm the message in the picture of what they have just read in the text (#15)

    • P10: It takes more time, you know you need to read two parts.
    • P2: I need to switch between text and figures. It affects fluency.
    • P5: For the text and picture, I need to move my view from top to down consequently. I have to read the text and confirm with graphics.
    • P13: here you have to up and down.
    • P14: This one is organized, but you have to read travelling.
    • P18: You need to bounce around the text and pictures without direct connection,
    • P21: I have to do it [looking back and forth] but I don’t like to do it
    • P12: You need to read a long story and you try to go back and compare.
  • Readers need to bridge the connection by their own between the message in texts and visuals, which takes more time and misunderstanding occurs when they build a wrong connection. (#11)

    • P8: You read the sentence and look, read the sentence, and look. But based on what you are doing, you are basically building your own comic.
    • P2: Figure is not annotated. It requires the audience to comprehend.
    • P6: The text and figure are separate. You need to confirm the message in the figure after reading the text to see how this information is related. It is more complicated than the infographic.
    • P18: There is no direct connection between text and figures.
    • P6:  The text and picture are divided and feels like they are not related.
    • P5: if I start from the graph, I will get lost.
    • P16: I can kind of read that [text] and didn’t look the picture.
  • A high density of text (#8)

    • P32: too much text and it’s hard for me to stay focus
    • P15:  The information here is quite dense.
    • P16:  There is whole lots of reading.



  • Easy for information retrieval and exploration (#12)

    • P1: If you need to search for information, infographics divided them in a small piece so you can catch the important information in a quick look
    • P2: Text is annotated just around the figure helps the audience to search messages.
    • P6: I can only just what I am interested in. If I was to read this format(infographic), I can choose not to say the detailed information.
    • P15: If you are reading just some random information like if you are reading the news, you don’t care too much about the detailed, this is better, I just look and pass in a few seconds.
    • P16: I prefer to have it spread through the image, so you kind of explore the image and reading bits as you go through the image.
    • P17: I don’t need to follow other people’s reason,  I can just follow my reason. For me, I don’t need this. I can figure it out while reading this.
    • P18: It’s easy to kind of find the motivation why there are some sentences […] You feel like you are discovering a little bit more here.
    • P19: it’s good if you put it on your bedroom wall as a memory aid when you already know the entire thing and it can remind you of the year and the event.
  • Having the whole picture and details at the same time (#11)

    • P4: Infographic is better, you got all the information in a straightforward fashion.
    • P8: It’s good to have an overview (infographic part)
    • P9: For me, the picture is easier to remember visually than this [comic]. When I recall the story, the image is pretty clear in my mind.
    • P10: You have two paragraphs domain events without losing the general picture.
    • P12: I have a picture in my mind and I just kept adding things to it.
    • P16: You got the one in rich, you can look at it and explore.
  • Annotations build a strong connection between texts and pictures. (#11)

    • P1: Infographics have great intimacy with text and figures, valid information is organized.
    • P2: it helps to find out [a] relationship between massages
    • P3: the arrows in infographic helps distinguish.
    • P4: there are short graphs helping with understanding.
    • P6: The annotated information helps me understand the story. And it annotates important information so I don’t need to extract by myself.
    • P12: Having the notes next to which country help tell the story
    • P13: Having things explained here(around the map) help understand the big picture. There are small statements to show how things changed over time. It’s good to have it
    • P16: But in this stuff, you got pretty clear if you got these arrows pointing to different countries to explain different parts of the text.
    • P18: This one engages the text and picture at the same time.
  • It is suitable for interpreting geographical and spatial relations. (#7)

    • P3: infographic is suitable for trend.
    • P12: infographic is pretty strong when it concerns geography. With a map, it makes a really directly relevant.
    • P15: Since this one is a map, I like this one more.
    • P18: If it is about a relationship, maybe this [infographic] is better.
  • Easy to make a comparison (#2)

    • P2: Infographic list all the message for the audience to compare if the information is not overwhelming.
    • P5: With the infographic, people can easily move from one point to another point. It also helps them to make a comparison by their own.


  • It looks overwhelming at the first look (#3)

    • P10:[…] I still grant it’s hard to interpret because you get a general picture altogether.
    • P11: It’s hard to tell the direction and the movement with all the lines, it looks very busy and irritating. There are so many crossing lines and colors.
    • P14: This one [infographic] could be overwhelming.
  • Confusing in the reading sequence: where to start and where is the end. readers’ reading habits (from top to bottom, left to right) may conflict with the sequence of the story. An irrational reading sequence may affect comprehension (10)

    • P3: it’s disordered and not aesthetic pleasing.
    • P5: I don’t know where to start. I will read it from top left to bottom right. It takes me time to search for where to start. Even though there is a number, but there are many distractions.
    • P8: where am I? what should I read first?
    • P9: All the information is together, so I didn’t know exactly where to look at.
    • P14: I don’t know which way to follow. The sequence is quite confusing.
    • P15: you can not find the causality, you don’t know which event leads to which event
    • P14: I have to travel all around here, it is not logical.
    • P18: There is no order.
    • P16: Because it is quite important with time and sequentiality to it, I found it quite hard to pick up from this little boxes. I tried to read it in order, I found it quite hard to follow in that way.
  • Arrows and boxes add redundancy (#7)

    • P2: Too many messages could perform not so well, for the arrows and lines makes the story complex.
    • P3: Many messages are bind together. It’s difficult to distinguish.
    • P16: There is some potential confusion therearound. And it is a little massive over there with dots going everywhere. There is a lot of redundancy.
    • P7: It takes more time to follow the line and arrows in infographics
    • P6: All those arrows are too much, I couldn’t really follow which one goes where.
    • P13: You have arrows going everywhere, it is a bit destructing.
  • Not suitable for interpreting temporal-spatial data (#6)

    • P2: When the story is need to read by time, this format could be difficult.
    • P12: The placement of the boxes doesn’t really mean anything to me compared to a map.
    • P15: Here is impossible to understand what happened, even the numbers to understand the year. (temporal data about history)
    • P17:  The change over time become difficult to read. I have to count the number of dots to see what time that is, it is very unpleasant.
    • P18: To understand the change in time, maybe having the text following the time may be easier to understand. (Interest rate). It almost impossible to figure out what happened first.
    • P21: it’s awful because there is no timeline, I can’t follow it

Data Comic


  • good for illustrating temporal data (#14)

    • P5: Like the interest rate and Alliances, they have the timeline, comics help me understand the sequence of the story.
    • P8:  it is very good for a time-based event
    • P9: comics works well, as it is about chronology, it’s hard to get the story without the dates and the sequence of the events.
    • P11: It helps in my head visually keep tracking what happened first, it feels like you are looking at a timeline analysis for each panel is follow the time and easy to track.
    • P13: You read like how they developed.
    • P14: When the information is more complicated and have a lot of steps or stages, this one would be the best option.
    • P15: It is history, and it is easier to understand the chronology sequence. (Alliance). I also like this one, because there is also information with time.
    • P16: I kind of feel like following that complex, a progression of time and relationships, maybe the comic is easier for this one.
    • P16: You get years and quite a big separation in time to have lots of events happened in a month. I think maybe it could a better way to convey the closeness of differences in time.
    • P10: If someone wants to read follow the sequence, or establish a staff of what happened, you know this one could be a good
    • P33: I don’t think other things than the comic can effectively get across the information in the Alliances story, just because it is so complicated and chronological, it really doesn’t matter what happened at the last panel
  • It has a clear reading sequence (#12)

    • P15: At first, it explains the graph (legend), which is important. I can see with time, which is easy to understand.
    • P8: You are guided by what you have to see.
    • P9: Here it gives me like a sequence.
    • P3: Audience can just follow the sequence. It’s logic and well organized.
    • P14: You have the option to see the information by steps, and you can easily have your memory when it happens. It is like the same way we remember history when I was a child. I have got used to that way to remember stuff.
    • P25: only this one [comic] feels like a story
  • It helps with learning (#10)

    • P8: Comic makes a story in your head. For learning, the comic is better.
    • P9: I could remember quite a lot of these, at least I have the impression that I learnt a lot.
    • P15: If I was about to study this topic, I would always choose this format. Because you will remember everything.
    • P25: If you want a detailed reading, comics are easier to get and easier to digest in a sense.
    • P27: If I don’t have time, I’ll go for data comic.
    • P13: I mean that really seem to help isolate the difference.
    • P17: It does capture or at least inform some information that needs to be emphasized, like the difference between the interest rate
  • It breaks the complexity into pieces and groups (#10)

    • P2: Each panel could filter other unnecessary information. comic streamline information and it’s easy for a focused overview.
    • P4: Comic works, as there is a general trend within it, the comic shows a certain pattern of it. [Interest rate]
    • P9: Data comic/ Interest rate is the easiest one because the information is divided into the nice chunks so I can read it throughout.
    • P11: With here [comic], it is tramped out. And it makes it feel more manageable and easy to understand.
    • P17: The comic breaks down and separates the information in order. It breaks things down in some small frames, and it is quite easier to memorize.
    • P28: It nicely organized into boxes
    • P34: Information is given by group, I can read it step by step
    • P35: Colors make more sense as they are individual displays by regions
  • Repetition helps with memory (#2)

    • P9: It’s easy because the important information is repeated all the time, which helps me to memorize. And I realized it was something important to remember.
    • P14: You really can remember that way [repetition].
  • The connection of text and figure is stronger (#1)

    • P18: The link is even better in terms of text and figure.


  • Panels can contain a lot of information to process and sequence prevents filtering and skipping information (#11)

    • P14: I can find it more subjective in each panel, but in the meanwhile, it is adding the workload.
    • P10: It looked too specific.
    • P15: It’s too detailed.
    • P16: I think it’s unnecessary to have that kind of level to break down because it’s simple enough to understand the image by just looking at the whole picture and explore it.
    • P6: I can only read the comic step by step, it is hard to find the part that I am interested in.
    • P2: You just follow what the authors want them to see.
    • P5: If people don’t really like comics, or they want to analyse it differently rather sequentially.
    • P17: I don’t need to follow other people’s reason,  I can just follow my reason. For me, I don’t need this.
  • Lacking an overall picture. (#10)

    • P12: Every time I read a new panel, it feels like a new picture was formed in my mind, but having a whole picture and add information to the whole picture helps me understanding.
    • P10: Then you can get lost, you actually lose a general picture of what’s happening
    • P1: It doesn’t provide a general vision of the story. Also, it makes every fact easy to read and but you won’t pay attention.
    • P2: Comic doesn’t provide a whole view of the text. Difficult for overall comprehend
    • P4: Comic is really mass. You don’t see the whole picture. [Alliances]
    • P6: I have to look at the front picture when I was reading the back part of the story. It is not shown in its own panel.
    • P18: It was all the same but highlight differently. I would feel like I would rather like to have a bigger one where I can see things.
  • Things have been read were easy to forget (#6)

    • P6: It is long and mass, you will forget about the former part while reading the back part. The age and event are too much and I couldn’t remember.
    • P9: I feel it work well yesterday but not today. So I could not remember many things today.
    • P1: The information is too simple to form an inner connection between messages. Happy reading but ended up remembering nothing.
    • P2: People could forget what the front panel talk about while reading the second half.
    • P3: It is difficult to remember all. When reading the second half, you need to look back many times for determining the information.
    • P4: When something change majorly you need always refer back to what actually happened. [Alliances]
  • Size of pictures are small in the case of this experiment (#5)

    • P11: the full map is better than a small map
    • P16: it’s a bit small and cannot make things very well. It means you have quite small images and very small text.
    • P18: maybe the small size makes it difficult to follow.
  • Information is scattered (#5)

    • P1: The information is too scattered.
    • P2:  The information is scattered. The comic could take more time, each panel doesn’t carry messages from other panels.
    • P6: It feels scattered. You need patience to finish all the story.
    • P12: There are so many pictures changed each time. I felt like I interpret each one again and again.
    • P16: It’s a bit more scattered. It focuses on different sections of it, and it is quite hard to get in balance. You have this very row map and stuff here. Then you got part of the map, then you got a bit more of it. Then you got a different part of it.
  • It may look overwhelming at first glance (#4)

    • P6: There are too many graphs.
    • P13: This one can be confusing, considering there are all types of data. It seems a little much at first glance.
    • P14: It can be exhausted after reading.
  • Too much repetition causing a distraction (#6)

    • P6: the graph appears repeatedly. It adds the mass. And you don’t know which information is important.
    • P10: Why would I need a chart of nuclear in this section, that is something we can actually cluster into…
    • P2: Each panel contains repeated but also limited information.
    • P12: Every time I start a new panel, I feel like I start again.
    • P16: I don’t see the repetition is being necessary in this case.
    • P18: If I see this picture, I expected different content. Here they just highlight, it is not strictly necessary to have all these
  • It’s hard to make a comparison (#1)

    • P18: It’s hard to compare with different groups.

Examples of Reading Sequence records

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