17 Apr Infographics Best Practices
Infographics do more than tell information. They tell a visual story. More precisely, they tell the point of the story. They’ve earned a growing reputation for an ability to relay information that engages a target audience.
But not all infographics work. Some don’t combine info and graphic portions into a whole worth more than the sum of the parts. Those that do work join visuals and numbers in simple (and often brilliant) ways. Instead of several ideas, they concentrate on singular goals around one theme. And they result in compelling arguments that move interested viewers toward action.
To learn how to design infographics that work, consider several basic principles. Here they are:
Less is more (and more is less)
Determine the one thing you want to communicate, and what you want your audience to do with (or feel about) it. If you’re not sure, get sure. Then move on to design. The more ideas you try to cram into the graphic’s message, the less likely any will register for more than a few seconds.
Multiple data point infographics are possible, but they require more trial and error, and many times those multiple ideas are better communicated through multiple infographs (in a series of related venues). If you decide that multiple graphics within the same piece are essential, this can work – but wherever possible, cut graphics that either repeat concepts covered better in other graphics or those more or less acting as space fillers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with empty space, which can actually enhance the crucial concepts presented.
Timely topics tend to have a more receptive audience, but bad infographics fail even with a great subject. Good infographics can speak to any subject, even mundane ones. If you think the topic is meaningful enough, even if it’s not “important” or trendy, go for it.
But don’t let the iron cool
Let’s face it, the graphics that get the most attention are the ones that cover hot topics. Less popular ideas can be effective, but the hill to a successful infograph can be much steeper and longer.
Data is King
That being said, without valid (and statistically significant) data, even the most provocative topics ultimately lack substance. Let the data drive the topic, not the other way around. The goal is not to make data interesting, but to give it a voice. If it has little to say, move on to something else.
Colors are vital. The best choices will enhance the take-away. Incorporate color psychology analysis into all color selections. The psychology of color has been demonstrated in a multitude of studies, and those who heed its lessons maximize infographic effectiveness. Note however that color does not necessarily imply overly colorful. Some really great infographs have little variation in color and tone. It all depends on what fits the subject.
A good (simple) design
Keep the design relatively simple. Over conceived graphics make information complicated and confusing, and sometimes allow for misinterpretation. Crowed visuals don’t attract viewers. They make them feel like they’re studying for a test, hurrying to get it all in. Simple, open-space visuals allow viewers to get it, which tends to develop a bond between graphic and viewer, increasing the chance they’ll pass it along to others. (By the way, great infographs don’t always get passed along. But if yours does, rest assured your infograph rocks.)
Of course, use enough design complexity warranted by the subject, but just enough. Never more. If the subject isn’t compelling enough with minimal design, it’s probably not worthy of an infograph.
Begin with the end
Before jumping to design, consider the take-away first. What should the audience learn from the visual? What action should they take? What should they think (or feel)? These answers many times change the original design assumption.
The right data
Engaging visuals must be backed by solid data for the infographic to have staying power. The right data is rarely the first you encounter. Duly diligent research to find valid, statistically relevant, subject-appropriate data ensures substance behind the marketing. Once the data is selected, conduct thorough analysis to find the best insights to convey.
A thousand words
It’s true what pictures are worth. A good infographic tells a story without relying on words to tell the audience what to think. The graphics are the primary communicator. Supporting text is just that. If your infograph needs a description to make its point clear, you have more work to do.
Build the narrative script/flow
Great infographics convey data insight through a clear, unique design. Get a whiteboard and your creative team together. The team should include one or more data people, but not ones who are pure data SMEs. (Note: The data contingency should appreciate how to present it effectively. Creatives might be better at this, but you need a data perspective, what can and can’t be extracted, to prevent going too far down problematic data paths.) List as many ideas as you can in a limited time (30 minutes, for instance). Put a lot of ideas out without spending too much time on any one. Consider available data types and their respective displays (timeline, flow chart, histogram, pie charts, and so on).
Narrow the list and move on
Once you’ve boiled down your list of doable data points and related themes, send your data team away, putting them on the job of scoping the extraction/analysis efforts (if any). Once it’s time to get down to the business of elegant design, strictly data perspectives tend to get in the way.
Good design is appealing design
No matter how simple your infographics are, creativity in visual design makes the overall product appealing. Test boundaries with colors, type face, layout and the use of white space. Bad initial ideas can sometimes lead to creative breakthroughs.
Bad design is PowerPoint design
Infographics are supposed to stand out, not look like everything else. The more original the design, the greater platform your data has to speak to its audience.
Never forget the point is to create action, feeling, or thought. The call-to-action can be implied (through a leading question, for example), but direct or not, remember to include the point. High contrast colors and obvious action buttons with clear directives are simple ways to communicate. Whatever makes it extremely clear and easy (and urgent) for the viewer works time after time.
It’s not about you
It’s about the audience. What do they care about? Features? Not so much. What do those features mean to their lives and businesses? Very much.
You own grammar (it doesn’t own you)
Use extremely concise text. What can be communicated with less words and less punctuation is almost always better than more.
Share and Promote (if an infographic fell in the woods…)
Masterful infographics that don’t get put before an audience are pointless. Things go viral, yes. But every one of them is pushed out, in several ways, before the virus spreads on its own.