Visualizing the Social Media Universe in 2020

The team at Visual Capitalist has visualized the Social Media Universe in 2020 using circular planets to represent the sizes of the different social platforms. They did a lot of things right with this design, and one major design choice I question.

From Visual Capitalist:

Social media has seeped into virtually all aspects of modern life. The vast social media universe collectively now holds 3.8 billion users, representing roughly 50% of the global population.

With an additional billion internet users projected to come online in the coming years, it’s possible that the social media universe could expand even further.

Let’s take a look at how social networks compare in terms of monthly active users (MAUs)—an industry metric widely used to gauge the success of these platforms.

Here’s what I think they did really well:

  • Circle sizes! So many people get circle sizes wrong, but they got it right. You have to size circles so the areas are proportional to the data. I even created a reference sheet to teach people Sizing Circles for Data Visualization that you can download as a PDF.
  • Brand colors. The colors of the planets in the infographic are based on the brand colors of each platform. That helps associate each planet.
  • White logos and text: There’s so much other color noise in this design, keeping the logos, data values, and text in white helps make it more readable.
  • Defining MAUs (Monthly Active Users) early. You should always define your acronyms at their first use within your design (infographic, report, presentation, etc.) so anyone not familiar with it will understand them from the start.
  • Zero baseline bar charts. There are a couple of small bar charts that provide additional data about Facebook and TikTok. Both of them are simple, clean, one-color designs based on a zero baseline so readers can easily understand them. That also allows for the removal of the axis labels and the data labels on the bars to be enough information for the readers.
  • Short, simple text descriptions about each service. Keep the infographic simple, and longer explanations are in the article posted along with the infographic.

Here’s the one design choice I question:

  • Visualizing them as 3D planets. I get the visual metaphor for the “Social Media Universe” but as soon as you visualize them as 3D planets, they really should be sized as proportional 3D spheres instead of 2D circles. That math is a little more complicated. As it is currently designed, the sizes don’t match spheres.

A few other design improvements for infographics:

  • Don’t obscure your data sources. Don’t just list the top-level domain or company where your data came from in the infographic. Readers should be able to easily review and access your data sources. Don’t make people search or hunt for your data.
  • Missing copyright or Creative Commons. I’m an advocate that Creative Commons is an easier licensing model for publishing infographics, but this infographic doesn’t list any type of copyright at all.
  • Missing infographic URL. Most people share the infographic JPG image file and tend to neglect linking back to the original. The best thing designers can do is to include the URL for the Infographic Landing Page in the infographic image file itself, so readers from other sites can find their way back to the original.