What makes a good infographic

How To Create Perfect Infographics Part 1

Posted on October 1, 2013 · Posted in Design

While the term infographic is a relatively new one, the concept of displaying information in a graphical format has been around for a long, long time. For thousands of years humans have attempted to explain the world around them through visual means – from 30,00 year old cave paintings, the striking use of simple iconography to tell complex stories in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, or the evolution of Chinese script, to the very first examples of cartography ad the bar chart. We are visual creatures by nature, and we tend to learn and explain best when information is presented in a visual format.

The modern day infographic has taken on a slightly different form to that of its predecessors; however, the fundamentals remain the same. The combination of visual story telling with data presentation is the key driver behind the popularity of infographics and, in an age where data is everywhere, they have become genuinely indispensable. In this article I am going to walk through 10 essential steps you can take to ensure the infographics that you create are both informative and beautiful.

1. LET THE DATA TELL THE STORY

The best story tellers in any generation are natural communicators who command attention. Whether huddles around a campfire, on stage in front of thousands or displayed on a computer screen, story tellers know how to engage and inspire an audience. And in the era of big data, telling a story is no different. Big data is no longer just a number on a screen, but a story to be discovered.

For data to communicate effectively with its intended target audience it must be three things:

  • Compelling – To gain attention it must be compelling and stand apart from other data. Ask yourself: “Will the intended audience find this interesting?”
  • Competent – The data must also come from a competent, creditable source. This is crucial to developing the trust of your readers, and will also play a major role in determining whether they share it via online social circles.
  • Controversial – Finally controversy is always good if the data you choose can elicit a response from your reader, you’ve won. Debate is good, and controversial data can foster great discussions and expand your influence beyond the realm and reach of the infographic.

2. DETERMINE PURPOSE AND AUDIENCE

Given a topic and a set of data to work from, it’s easy to let your mind flood with great ideas for your narrative or visuals – but the first step should be actually backwards, not forward. Who will you be talking to? How can you add valuable information to your readers busy life? And, once your reader reaches the bottom line of your infographics, what do you want them to walk away thinking or doing?

Knowing your audience should be the overriding factor in directing and determining the purpose of the graphic you’re aiming to produce. To succeed you’ll need to research the client, market and media landscape to decide opportunity areas to connect with the pre-determined receptive audience.

After you have identified your audience, it’s time to determine the purpose and tailor the graphic’s call to action. Whether the purpose is to sell a product or to position a brand as a thought leader, the way you communicate its call to action is paramount to the inforgraphics success. It’s purpose should be to engage readers on the level of shared values rather than being a typical product pitch.

3. CONSTRUCT AN ENGAGING NARRATIVE

When building a narrative around data, remember: it’s not the size of your numbers, it’s how you use them. Your narrative is only a good as your ability to empathise with our readers, so bear in mind who they actually are, what beliefs they hold about your topic, what they already know about the topic, where they are reading your infographic, how easily they could be distracted, and how they can be seen in their social circles based on the content they share.

With your readers’ perspective in mind, and an understanding that their must be hundreds of other bits of content flying across their radars, think about how much they’ll be able to digest in those precious few moments when you have their attention, and what you can say in that time span that will shift their perspective. You want to create a jolt, but there are several ways to do so:

  • Enlightenment – you might not know XYZ exists, but here’s how it does.
  • Opportunity – you might think XUZ isn’t possible, but here’s why it is.
  • Fear – you might think XYZ is OK, but here’s why it’s not.
  • Soothing – you might think XYZ is not OK, but here’s why it is.
  • Humour – you might think penguins make terrible footballers – and you’re absolutely right.

The magic of data is that it can show us trends and patterns lurking under the surface that the naked eye can’t see, and others that exist on such a massive scale that we can’t fathom until they’re put into numerical perspective. Ultimately the goal of your narrative is to put these patterns into perspective.

4. MAKE COMPLEX UNDERSTANDABLE

Once you have analysed your data and know the story you want to tell, you’ll need to start thinking of ways to present the data visually. Ultimately, your infographic’s primary purpose is to make data comprehensible to a wide audience, and it’s pretty likely that the original format of your data wasn’t all that accessible.

Presenting data in a visual manner can aid the viewer’s understanding of the subject matter in a way a spreadsheet or paragraph of text cannot. Your infographic should aim to free the data from the constraints of a table and present it in a format that reveals hidden trends, highlights key points and looks great.

Your visual representation of the data should always try to be:

  • Accurate – Use reliable sources, and be as transparent as possible.
  • Clear – Aim for optimum clarity.
  • Accessible – Reveal hidden trends, and highlight the key points.
  • Informative – Distill, teach and empower.
  • Valuable – The graphic should drive conversation in the subject matter.
  • Optimised – Present the data in a way that’s conducive with the medium in  which it will primarily live (via web, mobile, video and so on).
  • Beautiful – Use typography, colour, size and shape to guide the narrative.

As a data designer, your job is not to simply make the data look beautiful. more importantly your task is to make the data easier to understand. An infographic can be both visually appealing and informative, but the key is to strike a balance between creating something helpful and creating a stunning piece of work.

5. FOCUS ON STRUCTURE FIRST

Successful infographics rely upon a strong, clear structure. The underlying structure determines the organisation of the data, controls the flow of the narrative and ensures the integrity of the data remains intact. By concentrating on the structure first, the data controls the graphic rather than the visual design.

Key considerations that will have an impact on the comprehensibility of a structure are:

  • The amount of data you have – too much, or too little?
  • The categorisation of data – different categorisations require visual formats. Richard Sual Wurman identified five ways in which information can be organisaed by location, alphabetically, chronologically, categorically and hierarchically.
  • The medium – static, interactive or animation.
  • Where it will primarily live – online, in print, on a TV screen.
  • Its dimensions.

As you’re developing structural concepts, keep asking your self: is this structure making the data easier to understand? This may seem obvious but, becuase the infographic’s primary purpose is to inform, its success hinges on this factor. Sometimes it can be tempting to put deisgn over functiom. You may create a visualisation that looks beautiful enough to hang on your wall, but that makes the data inaccessibile to the viewer.

If the data is presented in a way that aids the audeince in its comprehenion, then the infographic is successful. if, however, the structure is too complex and makes the audience work hard to discover and ascertain what the data is showing, then your graphic has fail.

Fundamentally, a good structure:

  • Provides clarification.
  • Aids comprehension.
  • Reveals trends.
  • Highlights key findings.

However, a poor structure:

  • Masks data.
  • Obscures facts.
  • Skews interpretations.

 

For more great tips continue reading  ‘How to create perfect infographics part 2‘.