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Visual Storytelling

More Than Just a Pretty Picture: The 5 Essentials for Designing Great Infographics

Authors:

Jim Walker – Director, Marketing Strategy
Ken Fabianovicz – Director, Strategy and Innovation

Infographics seem to be everywhere lately, covering a universe of topics from the Affordable Care Act (http://tiny.cc/aca2013) to the Zoster Virus (http://tiny.cc/zoster) and every subject in-between.  But, in the midst of this growing information onslaught, we need to stop and ask – what makes a really great infographic?  Based on our experience creating infographics for a range of clients, (as well as some inspiration from design expert Edward Tufte), – here are the five essentials for developing highly engaging and informative infographics:

DTC 2013 Infographic

DTC 2013 Infographic

1.      Great infographics tell a great story. Simply.

If you haven’t noticed already, a vast majority of infographics are simply a random assortment of factoids, linked together by some clever Illustrator design work. This is a fine approach if your goal is to simply say “we have an infographic” about topic “XYZ”. However, if you want to create an infographic that engages, educates, generates user action, goes viral and maybe even makes you famous, then you need to take time to develop a great story before starting the infographic. Great Stories often focus on the Great Issues of our generation – but they can also spring from the most mundane aspects of everyday life. Either way, the essential starting point is a compelling story that will pull people in, carry them intellectually and emotionally across the page, and – at the end – leave them energized, enlightened, and enthusiastic to learn more and take action.

This recent infographic example from Grow America explores “Ten Simple Product Ideas That Made Billions”. Weaving together statistics, images, and personal stories of entrepreneurial motivation, this infographic tells a compelling story, concluding with simple steps for launching your own new product.

http://tiny.cc/simpleproducts

2.      Integrate a range of appropriate data types to support your story.

Many infographics highlight five or six numeric facts by increasing the font size to about 70 points, and then artfully placing these over-sized numbers across the page. Very little in the way of text, graphs, or imagery is used to provide context for the giant numbers, leaving readers to their own devices when figuring the meaning. However, simply because the font size has been increased does not mean that the story makes sense! In fact, heavy-handed visual emphasis on key points is the infographic equivalent of loud announcers in used-car commercials. Great infographics rely on whatever information type is most useful and least distracting for moving the story forward. Text, images, numbers, shapes, lines, arrows, icons, charts, and photos and more can all play a specific role in explaining, highlighting, and revealing critical points of the story. “Optimal emphasis” and “minimal visual harm” are good working principles to keep in mind. 

This political infographic from American Health 2012 relies on an integration of text, imagery and data to tell the story of social media impact on the 2012 election. Data is depicted in the broad averages as well as by party affiliation. The “tweets per hour” watches bring to life the social and political competition between the Romneys and Obamas.

http://tiny.cc/americanhealth

3.      Know and respect your audience.

It is certainly inspiring to imagine that millions of people will look at your infographic, but the reality is that most infographics should be laser-focused on a particular topic and a particular audience. This niche focus helps to guide the development of your story, and it also helps ensure that content, style delivery, and suggested actions are closely aligned with audience expectations. Knowledge of your audience is reflected in the particular facts and emphasis you place in the design. Respect is demonstrated by recognizing that each user will digest the content in a way that suits their particular interests and curiosity. A great infographic does not force users to digest a pre-determined set of messages in a specific order, but instead, respects users’ intelligence by offering multiple points of exploration, discovery, and action.

This colorful design by the Logo Company offers very little explicit explanation, but instead, relies on the viewer to scan across the various logo types and color bands. More than 100 brand logos are presented in a high density but very accessible design. For marketers and brand aficionados, the interest and curiosity grows as various brands are juxtaposed in ways normally not considered.

http://tiny.cc/coloremotionguide

4.      Create relevant points of engagement and action.

The current explosion of infographics is happening in the context of a highly networked and engaged online audience. This online eco-system creates a range of opportunities for inviting users to click, respond, and share.  Sometimes an action point can be as simple as a final motivational message with a web link to a root URL. In other instances, users can be invited to share the infographic, download a white paper, watch a video, or complete a survey. When carefully integrated throughout the story flow, these points of departure enrich the story rather than stop it cold in its tracks.  When designed with action in mind, infographics are transformed from giant colorful billboards into engines of targeted engagement and measurable customer interaction.

This infographic from the MesotheliomaHelp.net provides a series of both personal and census level views of cancer, examining the types and frequency of cancer. The data – although depicted in a very neutral format – has a cumulative emotional impact as fact after fact is presented. At the bottom of the page, an understated call to action asks the viewer to contribute.

http://tiny.cc/mesohelp

5.      Design in surprises.

Whether it is triggered by a unique data point, an unusual graph, or an unexpected visual treatment, great infographics break the viewer out of their information trance and force them to see the data from a fresh perspective. Far from being a distraction from the story flow, these “surprises” are that intangible element which can greatly increase the enjoyment, impact, and share-ability of an infographic. If you have thought carefully about the great story you are trying to tell, then the appropriate placement of these small and often simple design elements should become apparent as you work through the overall design. Designing infographic surprises is not without risks – somewhat like beginning a presentation with a joke. However, if you know and respect your audience, and stay true to the story you are telling, then you will be able to gauge whether or not a particular “surprise” will be truly appreciated or leave people confused or distracted.

 This design focuses on the endangered Mountain Gorilla, providing a range of data points, visual engagement, and interesting facts. After taking in the details of the top graphic, scroll down for a memorable surprise that truly captures the emotion and drama of the story!

http://tiny.cc/mountaingorillainfo

Conclusion

The current explosion of infographics is going to accelerate as our highly visual “four screen” network of smartphones, tablet, desktop, and television grows even more integrated, and the need for “sense making” grows more urgent in an information saturated world. With this growing exposure to infographics of all kinds, viewers will inevitably gravitate to infographic designs that tell a great story – engaging them, respecting them, surprising them and ultimately, inspiring them to action. 

If you to take the next step in creating a successful marketing infographic that not only presents a clear and compelling visual story, but they also drives action, read more here.

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Jim Walker

Jim Walker

Jim Walker is Director, Marketing Strategy at Cadient, a Cognizant Company. Jim provides innovative marketing insights for a wide range of clients, as well as leading Cadient’s content marketing strategy. He is particularly interested in helping brand teams effectively leverage their digital content. He can be reached at jim.walker@cadient.com.
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