Not since the invention of online surveys has something sparked the imagination of our industry like Infographics. Sure, we haven’t mastered the art of making them, and we aren’t quite sure how to define them. Yet most of us know a good infographic when we see it (or think we do).
I want to take a few minutes to write about how to make a good infographic and provide some useful tools and links, then you can let your imagination run wild!
Whenever I’m working on an infographic, I try to stick to three fundamental rules:
1) Know Your Audience
The infographics that we see on a daily basis are meant not just for public consumption but for public promotion. Every infographic “how to” includes a section on building social awareness for your infographic, but that is rarely the reason that marketing research agencies and departments make infographics. In reality, we often are making infographics for our clients’ internal use. In other words, the infographic may be one slide in a 200-slide deck and may never make it off of your client’s bookshelf.
That’s why it is vitally important that you understand who will see your infographic. Is your infographic going to be the one slide to summarize the study for the CEO or will it be mass distributed to various divisions throughout the company? Will it be shown just to the Marketing Department or be passed throughout the ranks of the Sales Team? All of these will shape how clear (and concise) you need to make the story. In many cases, your audience will also dictate the story that you want to tell.
2) Tell a Story
That infographics tell stories is the most challenging tenant of infographics (as it is of reporting in general). Using data to tell a story is difficult in and of itself, but add to it our client’s preferences, our fear of making too bold of a statement, and our crunch to get something out the door, and you frequently end up with a bunch of graphs thrown on a page haphazardly. In fact, I made an infographic resume for myself last year, and it was beautiful. Unfortunately, one of my potential clients emailed and said, “so what exactly are you looking to do?” That’s an epic infographic story fail!
Bottom line – it may look good, but if your audience doesn’t walk away with the right message, what is the point?
I recommend outlining the story of your infographic before you decide on any visual elements. Here’s what I mean by outline:
- Overall Message: What one point do you want your audience to take away?
- Recommendation: What do you want your audience to do after they see your infographic?
- Supporting Data: How did you come to the conclusion? Can you easily walk your audience through your thought pattern so they can arrive at the same place?
Next, you’ll need to translate your story into a visual, which brings us to point #3.
3) Create Lasting Visuals
I’ll admit that I am not a designer. I’m a sociologist who wears a lot of black and grey because I know that they match anything. Creating lasting visuals does not come naturally to me the way telling stories does. If you’re like me in that regard, don’t fret. Here are some simple tips to help you, and some resources where you can turn.
How do you make a lasting visual? Here are a few tips:
- Select a color palette – I use Adobe Color.
- Use simple graphs as sometimes more complex visual representations (bubble graphs, complex timelines, etc) overwhelm your story.
- If you are using a complex visual, then use it as a foundation rather than just a piece (see Healthcare by State).
- Don’t be afraid of words if they tell the story.
- Connect the sections visually to aid the reader in following your story.
- Decide on a focal point to anchor your supporting evidence.
- Ensure that you have a compelling Title and Conclusion that tie in to your visuals.
3.5) Bonus: Know When to Say When
Not everyone is a designer, and you may find that no matter how you try to master #3, you just can’t get to where you want to be. That’s when it’s time to call an expert (or find one online). Here is a list of resources for you to do just that…
- Piktochart – Has lots of templates that you can use. Membership is free, but you may need to upgrade to a pro account
- Visual.ly – If you have a high profile project and you want expert help. They also have great examples for inspiration here.
- Creative Market – Another place to look for templates.
- Easel.ly – Infographic templates.
- Wordle – Just for word clouds.
As you can tell from the image below, I made my own infographic using Piktochart for this article. I’ve never used a template service like this before, and I was surprised at how easy it was to use. I followed this basic process in its creation as I wrote the blog entry first, gathering my story and supporting thoughts. Given how long it took me to create my own template for my resume, I would highly recommend using a template service to save yourself the time and heartache of starting from scratch.
Alisha Hamilton is the owner of Harvest Insights, an Atlanta-based market research consultancy. She is a moderator, teacher, writer, and accomplished speaker.