The best infographics can be an incredibly useful tool for designers and marketers. They draw the reader’s attention more effectively than boring old grayscale text, and they allow for much more creativity than a straightforward breakdown using words. Infographics offer users a way to combine the best parts of illustration and narrative: Something to catch the eye, hold the attention and drive home a point.
Data visualizations, as infographics are also referred to, are not difficult to produce, but to produce an effective one, you’ll have to put some effort into it. Before you start assembling your graphic, you should have a clear idea of what you want it to convey and what its purpose is. Use this guide to help you produce an infographic destined for success.
Choosing a Topic
- There must be adequate dataYour first task is to pick a topic. The ideal topic will satisfy four main criteria, as illustrated in the chart above by Daniel Zeevi of Dashburst. First, there must be adequate data to support your argument or presentation. Data might include a study related to your subject or Census information. This data should be timely, reliable (i.e., from a trusted source) and easy to illustrate.
- Choose your storyThe second key part of your topic is the story. An infographic isn’t just a picture. It should illustrate the narrative that you want to get across to a consumer, whether that’s a breakdown of why Twitter is more effective than Pinterest at driving sales or a tribute to great classic rockers who’ve passed away. Included in the story should be a statement of purpose, as well as a solution or conclusion.
- Design considerationsThe third component of choosing a subject is design. Can you illustrate this issue effectively? Are there logical and/or creative elements that will enhance the delivery? Do you have a designer who is capable of delivering and expanding upon your vision? If the answer to any of those questions is no, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
- Evaluate the topic’s shareabilityFinally, every good topic should be shareable. Think of this as the “ability to go viral” factor. Your topic should be of interest to a wide group of people, not just a small swath from your industry. (Unless your goal is to simply go viral in your industry – which may be the case!) Be sure to give it a title that is both eye-catching and that contains a few choice keywords. You should also be aware of the data visualization’s impact. Will people find your infographic surprising, exciting and relevant? The goal is to produce something others will want to pass along, helping it to gain traction in the socialsphere.
Seeking Out the Best Data
Once you’ve determined your topic, your next order of business is coming up with the data to support your argument. There are a wide variety of sources you can draw from. It’s easiest, of course, if you’ve planned the graphic in support of a specific study, in which case you will have reams of data to include. In fact, your challenge in this case may be figuring out what not to include.
Make sure that you don’t include superfluous data that does not support your argument or help your reader to reach the conclusion. Cull only the information that is most relevant and most important to your infographic. If you are in need of more supporting data, do a search on your subject. Chances are you’ll find more than enough to help you fill out your graphic.
“Make sure that you don’t include superfluous data that does not support your argument or help your reader to reach the conclusion. Cull only the information that is most relevant and most important to your infographic.”Adrienne Erin
If you can swing it, internal company data can make for an interesting infographic. In their infographic The United States of Search, an interactive set of maps explaining the distribution of search provider usage in the United States, WebpageFX used some data pulled from their own web analytics and that of their clients. This wasn’t just peanuts – they analyzed over 35 million visits from search engines from the entirety of 2012.
Make sure that you source all data either within the graphic or at the bottom. You also must be careful not to plagiarize from your source material (i.e., copy the exact wording of information that appears elsewhere). WebpageFX goes a step further with their project, listing sources on their own page with a link to each dataset. Now that’s transparent!
Wordy Infographics Can Work
The design of the graphic is hugely important, because it plays a key role in telling the story. You should be leading people with your design and utilizing graphic elements to help you make a point. The central idea driving your data visualization should be “show, don’t tell.” Use illustrations, charts, and symbols to help convey your story rather than just using the graphic as an opportunity to drop heavy blocks of text.
That’s not to say that your infographic can’t be text-heavy. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of actual data to depend on, or the graphic is more about a timeline than statistics. That’s okay! Here are two examples of text-heavy infographics that make it work:
These two infographics tackle the challenge of a text-heavy topic admirably. The first tells the story of these powerful influencers who shaped America with their creations. (Victor Mousetraps, of course, made sure to highlight the inventor of the snap trap.) Using a variety of interesting fonts and symbols in patriotic shades of red, white, and blue, the image packs a graphic punch.
The second infographic presents a timeline of Lindsay Lohan’s drug-addled deterioration, and though the text plays a simple role, the central photo manipulation comparing Lohan as a child to her image as an adult is very powerful.
In this final example, from Pick a Mood for the Room by Gate to Garage, there is little data to visualize, but the graphic pulls through because of the combination of blocks of color and beautiful photography. Thin white lines point to colors that make up the mood of “warm,” and show how this style can be achieved with the right grouping of patterns, angles, colors, and accessories.
Showcase Your Data with Brilliant Design
However, since infographics are pretty dependent on data visualization, sooner or later you’re going to need to think about finding unique ways to showcase your statistics.
Instead of making a simple bar graph, why not make the subject an integral part of it? In this chart from the infographic SuSTAYnable Vacationing by CJ Pony Parts, a graph of vacation days earned and used in countries around the world gets unique character with a key shaped like a sun and cloud.
Speaking of clouds, in their infographic Building to the Sky: The World’s Tallest Buildings, Maxwell Systems uses a single bar chart to expertly display several related pieces of information. In one graph, they manage to show the height, cost, and years required to construct each building, and they even show off how the Burj Khalifa extends well beyond the condensation level!
Clarity Way Rehab’s video The War on Drug Communities uses a combination of kinetic type (animated text that expresses the mood of the situation where it is used) and simple graphics and charts to show how the War on Drugs is hurting the poor laborers who grow drug crops instead of punishing the dealers who make drugs an epidemic. This screencap shows the shape of Colombia, highlighting a tiny corner that makes up 2.8% of the land mass, to drive this point home.
Don’t feel bound to pie charts and graphs. Use your imagination. Incorporate anything that could serve as an interesting visual. And don’t try once and then give up. If you have an idea, keep with it until you make it work. Your goal is to convey sometimes complex information quickly, in a glance. If your infographic cannot do that, then you need to keep working.
Once you’ve addressed all these areas of concern, from choosing your topic to designing your infographic, you’ll be ready to post it online for the masses. If you’ve produced a powerful infographic, and you have a little luck on your side, you should have an infographic that spreads the word much faster than plain black and white text could have. Good luck!
Adrienne Erin is a designer, blogger, and social media enthusiast who loves picking apart infographics to see why some succeed and some never get off the ground. Enjoyed this post? Check out Adrienne’s blog, Pongra, or follow her on Twitter.