Creating Infographics Like a Designer
I’ve used this blog space to extol the virtues of content marketing before, and, while Marketing Mojo has been offering content marketing services since before I came on to the scene, there is at least one flavor of content marketing I’d personally love to see us doing more of for our clients: the humble, wonderful infographic.
The dearth of infographic projects coming my way is not surprising; for all their efficacy at communicating large amounts of data in an easy-to-digest package, infographics can be tricky, inscrutable things to get up and running, and for what may initially seem like a small return on investment. But the research is out there to support the idea that infographics are uniquely qualified to reach and educate people in a way that all the guest articles and blog posts in the world just can’t.
Have I convinced you yet? Great! Let’s get started on what it takes to make the best out of an infographic project.
Step 1: Establish Your Infographic’s Purpose
Let’s say you’re part of an organization, and that your organization has a message it wants to communicate (as organizations go, this describes, well, pretty much all of them). Now, let’s say that your message has several parts to it and scads of data to back up each part.
Feel like this no longer describes your situation? Chances are it actually still does; you just need to figure out what sort of data it is that you have. Would your organization’s overall message be better understood if some specific areas of knowledge were more widely understood first? Does your organization have pieces of research and/or data that you repeatedly turn to yourselves? Or maybe you’ve noticed some correlations/comparisons between previously unconnected sets of data . If so, congratulations and seething envy are both in order, for you have hit infographic paydirt.
Taking this purpose-first approach may surprise you in how effective it is, especially if you’ve been looking for the data first and trying to work backwards. That’s a common enough mistake — wanting to start with finding a nice juicy set of data, since the data appears to be the most important part of an infographic. And it is! But here’s the thing about data: There’s a TON of it out there. Enough that, with a goal in mind and a little Google-fu, you’ll find more than enough to get you started.
Once you’ve established the area you’ll be covering, it’s time to…
Step 2: Collect Your Data
And collect a lot of it. Seriously, a lot. Think about the amount of collected data it would take to have a hugely comfortable margin for edits/reductions during the designing process. Collect more than that. It is so, so much better to have more than you need than to find yourself scrambling to make a scant data set look more robust than it is. You’re not likely to fool anyone.
Another important thing to remember here: Don’t worry too much about your own personal assessment of whether the data is important, interesting, or even new information to anyone. Raw data is just the beginning! And don’t worry too much about overall cohesiveness or overarching narrative either. As long as the data is all relevant to a clearly defined purpose, the issue of narrative will be addressed once you start to…
Step 3: Visualize Your Data
As a designer, it’s often my job to diplomatically rein in clients when they get excited about all of the possibilities for… well, anything visual. Just because it *can* be done tons of different ways, doesn’t mean it necessarily should be. The purpose of graphic design is to communicate, and nine times out of 10, the best way to communicate is to communicate simply.
So bear that caveat in mind when I say: When it comes to all the ways you can depict data in an infographic, go wild. Infographics exist to get a lot of information in front of someone at once, and if you want that information to be retained, the best and easiest way to have it retained is to have the data depictions be as varied as possible.
Even the dryest, most boring, most common-knowledge information can get a fresh jolt of energy and interest with the application of a few interesting graphical tricks. Here’s a good place to start with interesting visualization examples. And here’s another one. What, not enough? Okay fine, here’s a whole daily feed of them.
In addition to the graphical presentation of individual pieces of data, deciding on the order in which to present things will be a significant portion of infographic data visualization (this is where establishing your “narrative” comes into play). I suggest focusing primarily on a logical hierarchy of information: broader, more generalized pieces of data first, gradually drilling down into more particular, subject-specific data. The good news is that this will often be all the “narrative” you’ll need. Infographics are meant to be light and easily digested, and where the traditional written word relies on context to reinforce information retention, infographics are able to achieve the same ends on the strength of graphics alone. This is, of course, not to say that you should abandon any further interesting flows or connections of data that are easy to construct. If you have that too, consider it the icing on the info cake.
Bear in mind that thus far we’ve just been talking the basic means by which pieces of data will be expressed. You’re still going to need to…
Step 4: Tie It All Together
If you’re a graphic designer of any stripe or have any experience at all with publication layout, this may be a step that naturally handles itself as you grind along through an infographic project. An infographic is, of course, a piece of graphic design, one of the designy-est out there, and all of the fundamentals of design apply. Keep your color and typeface choices consistent and balanced and their variations to a minimum. Visual flairs are fantastic, but decide on a small assortment that can be repeated to effect. Remember the go-wild approach you took to the data depictions themselves? This is where you balance that out by establishing a consistent styling.
By way of an example, here are a few pulls from Marketing Mojo’s recent 10 Years of SEO infographic that illustrate this balance of varied data depictions and overall visual consistency:
Even if you’re old hat at this sort of thing, it’s still worth taking the time to review your newly-organized infographic closely and broadly to make sure everything looks like it’s part of the same document — a colorful, fun, visually engaging document. But it should be a single intentional-looking document all the same.
…And there you have it! Now, go forth and communicate some cold, hard data in a way that your audience will enjoy.