For thousands and thousands of years the human race managed without them, got through daily life, worked, ate, drank, slept, breathed, lived. But now we've reached a point where it seems we can't live without them. Every piece of life is documented in them. The time saving devices. The designers favourite:
THE INFOGRAPHIC POSTER
Once the mainstay of every child's favourite book (Doring Kingsleys: 'The Ultimate Book of Cross Sections; obviously) the infographic has now taken on a life of its own, recording everything from the gas output of North Korea, to the number of toilet paper sheets used in an average Starbucks to how many tweets per second the average Japanese tweeter sent on 2010 New Years Eve.
In essence the role of the infographic is to present complex information quickly and clearly to the viewer, i.e. Harry Becks excellent London Tube Map is a prime example as is Otl Aichers simple stickmen pictograms for the 1972 Munich Olympics. But for me nothing comes close to the infographics of Florence Nightingale. The statistics she showed depicting the number and causes of deaths during each month of the Crimean War to help improve conditions in military hospitals on the field of war.
But for every awesomely crafted piece of true infographic genius there are hundreds of bad ones. The rise of the twitter generation has has played its part in this explosion, a quick search for #infographic brings up truly bad charts on such topics as 'Bad Customer Behaviour' and 'How to Design The Best Business Card' (and how to present it in person too? Really?).
The scary thing for me, is that we are awash with similar graphs that don't really tell us anything either due to bad design or bad content or often both, worryingly they usually follow the same format: Trade Gothic Condensed 20, a washed out colour pallete and use lots of siloutte vectors haphazardly placed, and lots of very dubiously generated statistics. It's bad design by numbers.
Basically these 'things' aren't infographics in the true sense, they're just a list of statistics cobbled together with a bad chart and some big chunky type. And as we all know, 86.3% of statistics are made up.