Infographics existed long before they rose to popularity as eye-catching vertical images that defy traditional paper sizes. We are users and producers of infographics that span on varying degrees of “cool.” It is not uncommon for tourists in New York City to get lost in the advanced subway system despite having stared intensely at the official underground infographic: the MTA subway map. In a cutthroat attention economy, infographics outperform images and articles in terms of views and social sharing. Rather than being static standalone images, infographics are most captivating when they are part of a content ecosystem that tells a larger narrative. Here we will share some thoughts on how to make meaningful infographics.
The common pitfalls of infographics and how to avoid them
- Text clutter: “Let’s cram every catchy figure into this infographic!”
The purpose of an infographic is to clearly present information, and more importantly, information that is accurate. Unlike college professors who glided past your use of questionable sources, the Internet will call you out for presenting low-integrity information.
- Visual clutter: “The more visually complex, the better the infographic!”
If a graphic doesn’t assist in illustrating the information then ruthlessly hit delete.
- No Narrative: “Infographics are just visual listicles!”
Infographics tend to serve higher civic functions than do entertaining Buzzfeed listicles. If you are trying to teach people something then make sure they walk away with a message. Build a narrative to use as a logic structure for your information and graphics.
- One size fits all: “Let’s share the infographic in its entirety everywhere, including Facebook!”
Infographics are not readable on some platforms. On Facebook, for instance, long infographics turn into tiny thumbnails that are impossible to read. Make sure to create appropriate layouts and sizing for different social channels.
- Lack of English: “Let’s use the data analyst’s language…”
Go with English – your audience will thank you. Unique visitors distributed by day of the week – can become People visiting by Day of the Week.
- Passive call to action: “Learn more if you want.”
Be deliberate with what people should do. Bonus points for creating a hook.
A Case Study from Whole Whale
Recently, Whole Whale partnered with PowerPoetry.org and SumAll.org to create an infographic illustrating the immense positive impact of poetry on fighting the literacy crisis. Growing from 0 to 135,000 members within a year and a half, PowerPoetry.org had a rich dataset that revealed valuable insights on the poets’ language mastery in connection with their engagement on the site. SumAll.org extracted stunning insights from analyzing the datasets. As the writers post more poems on the site, they tend to write less about personal topics and more about the community. The literacy gap between users from low-income and high-income zip codes also diminishes by half as the writers post over ten poems.
Traditionally, these data points would be passed along to a designer tasked with making the information snazzy. The designer produces a stunning infographic and hands it back to the team with no questions asked. This is a waterfall process during which designers work in their own silo, separate from the people who know the members and understand the data of PowerPoetry.org. Total data fiefdom.
Instead, Whole Whale took the agile approach. Our designer had direct access to every of our partners’ staff and was included in processes outside of design. A meaningful infographic is part data, part story and part visual. This requires the designer to be part data visualizer, part information architect, part visual designer and, especially, a collaborator.
An infographic is all you need, right?
If you need to decipher a bearded guy then definitely look no further. However, if your goal is to evangelize data culture or advocate for poetry then an infographic on its own won’t suffice. In the same way that logos – no matter how well designed – can’t alone position a brand, infographics can’t alone do justice to a complex story.
Beyond the amount of time invested into making the infographic, we also created other materials for PowerPoetry.org. SumAll.org built a project page that makes available all assets resulting from their research. They supplemented the infographic with blog posts explaining the project, the code repository from the data analysts and a Twitter poetry game built for SXSWedu. This is a great use of the transmedia approach in which different media channels come together to tell a single story.
You’ve got an infographic. Now what?
After creating a dazzling infographic with a cross-collaboration process, it is important to not negate the effort your team has made. Infographics usually become dead ends when they are exported and shared as images that lead nowhere. Here are a few things you can do to make the most out of your infographics:
- Use ThingLink to annotate infographics with links to other resources without having to code.
- Break down your infographic into smaller shareable images to make the graphics and text legible on social media.
- Add campaign tracking to the links in the infographic when sharing as a downloadable PDF to measure the traffic that it drives to your site.
- ThingLink: annotate your infographic with links
- Brandfolder: share your brand assets here so any designer can easily follow your style guide when creating infogrphics
- Iconmonstr: save time with these icons