February 15th, 2013
As most of you may know, there is a flurry of graphics representing data going around the Internet, which some like to call data visualization. Some like to call them infoposters. Some are in video format, so we call them, well, video infographics. Whatever term we use to address them, they all boil down to one specific purpose: present information, data, or knowledge visually. For the sake of familiarity, I’m going to call them infographics. If you’ve been assigned the challenging yet rewarding task of designing infographics, here are some dos and don’ts to follow:
Knowing your target audience and keeping them in mind throughout your design process plays an important role when creating infographics. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the trends and fads, so make sure your focus is on your target viewer. Your audience should be able to relate and engage with the topic of your infographic.
Brainstorm by yourself or with a group. As long as the ideas keep coming, no matter how far-out, the creative process will continue to churn. Make sure you write everything down.
It is very important that the information you present is correct. Avoid losing credibility by making sure you’ve double, even triple, checked your facts.
Much like in a newspaper or a website, hierarchy helps information flow in an infographic. If something looks out of place, seamlessly integrate it so it meshes well with the overall look of the design.
Speaking of looking out of place, using randomly picked colors will only confuse viewers. Save the use of arbitrary colors only when it actually has purpose (e.g., talking about fine art, color theory).
An infographic is simply the visual representation of complex data gathered together in an easily consumable and more understandable way. So if your design is text heavy, what’s the point? Unless of course you’re doing a typography-related infographic, then it makes perfect sense.
Prevent your message from getting lost in the graphic by avoiding muddle. As you have taken time to do your research, take your time to present the information you have collected in an organized, well-structured manner.
One of the most frustrating things about looking at an infographic is failing to make sense of it all. Help your viewers by placing the information key toward the edge of your graphic for easy visual access.
An effective infographic tells a story. Explain the data you’ve gathered through rich narrative and visual hooks, and offer a conclusion.
Tweet it, Facebook it, Pin it, blog it, but make sure it gets in front of the right people to get it rolling.
Everything has a process. Creating wireframes or sketching plays an important role in designing a successful infographic. Here’s an example of a typical infographics process:
Wikipedia is only a tertiary source (i.e., knowledge collected that has already been published and should not be your only basis of information). Get out there and do your own research. Hunt down the original source and confirm its legitimacy.
As I have stated in a previous blog, the typeface you select should serve its intended purpose. Make sure type choices match the tone and the story you are telling.
As a graphic designer, your focus is on effective visual communication. If your work confuses and frustrates your audience, you’ve failed to solve a problem. Help your viewers clearly identify each and every aspect of your graphic. You are telling a story after all, not a riddle. Stay clear of assumptions and be consistent in delivering your data.
If you give the wrong information, chances are you will mislead your viewers. Check your facts and don’t skew the truth in your design.
A cluttered desk may be a sign of genius, but a cluttered infographic is not. It looks rushed and not very well thought out. Don’t pack all the information you’ve gathered into your work. Analyze your data and weed out the ones that don’t fit your narrative. Your ideas and messages will be more accessible if the design is well streamlined, removed of all that is unnecessary. French novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Simple is good.
Typically, your design should include only the necessary information and its associated graphics. But sometimes, visual embellishments in your design can actually help increase recall and attractiveness. As with most art and design styles, there will always be an ongoing debate between minimalism and ornamental design. Knowing who your audience is and how you’ve organized your infographic is what it really comes down to.
You might feel just a little bit intimidated after seeing all the infographics out there. Don’t put too much emphasis on how your graphic is going to look at first. If you have followed your process, gathered all your resources, and have in your possession outstanding content, you don’t need to make it fancy, just clear and presentable. Consider what the grandfather of data visualization, Edward R. Tufte once said: “Design cannot rescue failed content.”
Tiny, indiscernible fonts, elaborate scripts, bad typeface choices, and low contrast between words and surrounding elements are just some of what’s hindering viewers from fully absorbing the information. Make it easy for your viewers to read your text.
Where you get your material is important, and citing your sources on your infographic gives it credibility. Be specific when listing out your sources. Don’t say, “One study concluded…” Instead, say, “A 2013 research conducted at MIT…” Give the readers a chance to investigate on their own if they choose to.
Here are some of my personal favorite infographics/data visualizations:
After reading some of my pointers, are you ready to take on the challenge of designing an awesome infographic? Designed one before? Let us know how you’ve approached and conquered this beast of a graphic.
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