How to Create a Successful Infographic
This is a guest post contributed by Rob Toledo, who loves designing websites, enjoys CSS3, no longer supports IE7 and can be reached on Twitter @stentontoledo. He recommends Shutterstock for both stock photography and stock footage.
Here’s a question: when was the last time you looked at a spreadsheet stuffed full of numbers and thought, “Wow, what an eloquent and moving treatise on the state of modern man”? Unless you’re a stats freak, to whom the word “statistical significance” has visceral meaning, we’re guessing never. But even the driest stats should be meaningful to us all. If the surge in production of infographics is any indication, they can be, too, but only if you design them with a few key things in mind.
- Start with the data.
If you were a writer, would you start with a concept that bored you? If you were a musician, would you compose a song because the first few notes sounded cliché? Of course not. When you’re designing an infographic, the data is the story, and the story has got to be interesting and accurate.
If the world is open to you, seek out data that’s relevant to your passions or industry using reliable public data sites. Comb through the data to find trends, and peruse academic papers on Google Scholar to see if there’s any research to back up your findings. From there, consider storyboarding, wireframing or flowcharting out ideas for both your story and your design. This will help you identify the real heart of your data (the “hook”), while also helping you determine the most logical structure, arc and flow for your design.
- Experiment with visual tools.
What really sets great infographics apart from their so-so counterparts is the graphics portion. This is where you can really have fun as a designer. Start with color, choosing a palette that will reinforce the voice and tone of the story you’re telling, not distract from it. Then experiment with the global theme elements like layout that help define the infographic’s overall direction, before moving on to smaller reference elements, which help draw attention to the most important bits of information. This is especially important for providing context in complex infographics that have
a lot going on.
- Make it digestible.
To really communicate effectively, your infographic can’t be a mass of confusing data. That’s why that initial drafting is so important, as is paying close attention to the flow of data across the screen. Experiment with both vertical and horizontal flows, as well as with visual aids like arrows that signal direction.
To further aid comprehension, assign a color to each “thought cluster” so that readers can process each idea one at a time and get a better sense of how it all fits together. Keeping typeface interesting but on theme also helps with this process, as opposed to experimenting with as many different fonts and sizes as you can design. The same goes for the number of words, which should be kept to a minimum. Less is more, and more is less.
- Share it.
An infographic wouldn’t be very effective if no one ever saw it. Post a link publicly on your website, Twitter and Facebook pages. Make sure to reach out directly to your most rabid fans as well as to bloggers with a big voice in your industry. Rather than doing a sales pitch, craft your message so it’s as engaging and fun as possible. Ask users intriguing or witty questions, or, better yet, create a competition using your data as inspiration.
When designed correctly, infographics tell a story about data in an compelling, intuitive and intensely human way – one that you can use to generate more business, increase engagement and conversions, establish yourself or your business as an expert, and just generally do something nice for your fellow human beings.
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