Applying L.A.T.C.H. to Infographics

Last week at the OELMA conference, keynoter Kathy Schrock gave a very strong talk about infographics. One strategy she talked about was L.A.T.C.H. as a mnemonic to help kids envision ways of organizing information.

I was really intrigued by L.A.T.C.H. because many student infographics I see feel very much like a traditional word web or mind map, with information presented in a “read it in any order” way, which reduces the impact of the information they include. Ultimately, many infographics made today are made by corporate entities and contain an underlying persuasive message, so organization is essential in transmitting that message with power.

It turns out that L.A.T.C.H. was a term created by Richard Saul Wurman, who also coined the term “information architecture,” designed the ACCESS books, and founded TED Talks.  The things you learn when you do research, eh?

Anyhoo, L.A.T.C.H. stands for:

L – Location; organizing information based on space or place, such as a subway map

A – Alphabetical; a good way of organizing information if there’s no other prevailing strong organizational structure

T – Time, as in timelines, directions, or other sequential information

C – Category, as in types of information (perhaps an infographic about students might sort data first by grade, then by gender, etc.).

H – Hierarchy, as in tallest to shortest, most expensive to least, youngest to oldest.

As Wurman says in this 2000 essay,

The ways of organizing information are finite. It can only be organized by location, alphabet, time, category, or hierarchy. These modes are applicable to almost any endeavor—from your personal file cabinets to multinational corporations. They are the framework upon which annual reports, books, conversations, exhibitions, directories, conventions, and even warehouses are arranged.

While information may be infinite, the ways of structuring it are not. And once you have a place in which the information can be plugged, it becomes that much more useful. Your choice will be determined by the story you want to tell. Each way will permit a different understanding of the information—within each are many variations. However, recognizing that the main choices are limited makes the process less intimidating.

If you were preparing a report on the automobile industry, you could organize cars by place of manufacture (location), year (time), model (category), or Consumer Reports ratings (hierarchy). Within each, you might list them alphabetically. Your choice would depend on what you wanted to study or convey about the industry. If you wanted to describe the different types of cars, your primary organization would probably be by category. Then, you might want to organize by hierarchy, from the least expensive to the most. If you wanted to examine car dealerships, you would probably organize first by location, and then by the number or continuum of cars sold.

After the categories are established, the information about the cars is easily retrievable. Each way of organizing permits a different understanding; each lends itself to different kinds of information; and each has certain reassuring limitations that will help make the choices of how the information is presented easier.

I was intrigued by this system, and, after watching this video (created for a school project), I think you will be, too.

Then test your ability to evaluate infographics by hopping over to Cool Infographics and see how an expert eyes them.

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