Following up along the lines of this recent post on infographics, it seemed like a good idea to create a guide to the basics of creating an infographic.
If you’ve ever browsed the Internet, you’ve likely run across your fair share of infographics. It’s no wonder why they’re so popular. At their best, infographics are an eye-catching, compelling way to tell a visual story about complex data – a way that’s more accessible and universal than the boring, text-heavy graphs that preceded them. But at their worst, infographics leave the data behind in their haste to embrace flashy visual techniques. Sure, they look nice, but who cares if no one can understand what they mean?
We’ve put together this guide to help pinpoint the best techniques as well as to illuminate what are fast becoming classic infographic pitfalls.
Keep the words to a minimum
Infographics create a story. But if we wanted to look at an actual story, we’d pull out the Faulkner. Certainly, use whatever text is necessary to communicate the essential information, or to expand on a figure, but rely on unique visual techniques to do most of the work. The best way to test out how much text you really need is to work with non-essential text on one layer of your AI file, turning it it off occasionally to see if it still makes sense without that text there. Add and detract until the infographic is using as little text as possible without sacrificing clarity.
Be more than a graph, be a story
If your clients wanted a colorful bar graph, they would have opened up an Excel file themselves. An infographic should use unique design elements that do more than simply turn a graph to a weird angle. Take the time to puzzle through the data beforehand and think deeply about the story it’s telling, using that to guide your approach. What’s causing what? Who does this effect? What’s the beginning, middle and end to this story? What can this change? A poorly designed infographic will take one attention grabbing but ultimately meaningless figure and feature it prominently, while a good infographic will dig out the hook.
Just like TV and movie writers storyboard a script, start by wireframing your infographic. This will help you identify not just the true story of your data, but how it should be told. Constructing a good story, after all, is a process of discovery. More often than not, you’ll determine the what and the how by starting to tell that story without really knowing what it’s about, meaning you’ll need to change your direction once you find clarity.
Wireframing your infographic will also help you organize your data so you can determine bigger layout questions that are trickier to fix further down the line. This includes the directions in which data should flow, where you’d like to draw eyes and what kind of visual techniques you’re going to use to break the data up.
Search stock images sites like Shutterstock for examples of vector image wireframes designed for creating infographics. If you don’t have a designer and don’t fancy yourself to be one, these sites are a great option.
Understand what typography is and how to use it
Typography is a visual element just like any other, one that you can use to attract reader eyes. The best place to get creative with typography is in titles and headers, which are there to break up information and draw readers into the next section. For all other text, have fun but keep it as readable as possible, sticking to a select few fonts rather than playing with every one out there. Remember, this isn’t a graph, but it should be as understandable and unified as one.
Chose color carefully
Color can make or break an infographic, especially if you’ve picked a scheme that isn’t universally compatible with different screens. As a rule thumb, choose a theme that looks good online, because that’s where most infographics will be shared and found anyway. Stay away from dark colors and neons, both of which can be hard to read. For the background, choose a color other than white, as many websites will be this color and your infographic will bleed into the page. In general, it’s best to choose various shades of three primary colors, devoting one to the background and one to break up your various sections. And of course, take full advantage of your favorite color databases.
Context and contrast
Sometimes, all an interesting statistic needs is a big feature on the page. But most of the time, we need to see how that statistic compares to other stats. This will help us get a better picture of the bigger story – a frame of reference. Use the preceding visual elements to enhance data and give it context, rather than detracting from the main story.
Avoid overdone design elements
While a vertical flow is often the clearest way to organize information, it doesn’t always have to be. Try experimenting with techniques that alter the flow of information in new but clear ways.
There are also a number of cliches to be avoided at all costs. A short list includes concepts that play on the periodic table, tube maps, Venn diagrams, and, our personal favorite, “World’s Tallest Building Plus Something They Are Building in Dubai.” Infographics are meant to be original. You can’t very well do that if you’re relying on cliches.
Infographics are where data, story, and art meet. It’s fine (great, actually) to love the latest and the greatest visual tools; in fact, that’s a big reason you’ve been brought on the job. But don’t sacrifice the accuracy and clarity of the data-based story you’re trying to tell to visual beauty. Use one to enhance the other and you’ll create an infographic that tells a story in a way no other form can.
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