Creating Infographics: Not Your Grandma’s Pie Chart

Charts. Graphs. Spreadsheets. Most organizations have important data to present to their clients and customers. Yet we live in a world where we are bombarded with information. Who has time to read and comprehend all those charts and diagrams? Good Infographics are a communications trend that illustrates data in an attractive, easily digestible format.

Through unique combination of images and words, infographic design is a powerful storytelling tool. It’s a way to take all that stuff your clients have collected about the great things they do, and make it exciting and accessible informed. Use good infographics to raise awareness, highlight research, illustrate the impact of a program or product, and much more.

 Why Infographics?

Ceci Dadisman, the director of marketing and public relations at Palm Beach Opera in West Palm Beach, FL, used an infographic design for the first time recently to promote her group’s 50th Anniversary Season. “Opera, ballet, and symphony are such complicated art forms. We are always trying to explain it simply in a nonthreatening way. Infographics  are a good way to explain what opera is with some facts anyone could understand,” Dadisman says.

Infographics Examples: Palm Beach Opera Done clearly and intelligently, good infographics can not only be an efficient way to convey information, but they also can help create an emotional connection.

Jeff Ferzoco should know. As the creative and technology director at Regional Plan Association in New York City — an 85-year-old advocacy group focused on urban research and planning in the tri-state area — it’s his team’s job to sift through mountains of data on a daily basis and to figure out the best way to arm his audience of policy makers and citizens with the knowledge they need to move the conversation forward about a particular project. “Busy people don’t want to spend too much time to unravel complicated information, so if it’s explained at a level that’s instantly understandable and emotionally satisfying, you’ll have a lot more success getting your message across. It’s removing a barrier to understanding,” Ferzoco says.

In the following piece, Jeff and his team created an atlas-type map for a conservation report to explore the layers of geography that make up an incredibly complex region. “The only way to really get the information across was to make everything the same scale, same language and have the user feel like they are building experience from looking through the layers,” he explains about the infographic design.

Infographics Examples: Regional Plan AssociationSecondly, as an online creature, infographics are easily shareable and therefore inherently social media friendly. In the case of Palm Beach Opera, the graphic was initially hosted at visual.ly — an infographic design portfolio site, on the Palm Beach Opera blog, and also via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail.

How to Use Infographics Effectively: See Examples

Good Infographics For your Clients

Organizations are using infographics in a multitude of ways, such as in annual reports & newsletters (both online and in print), to accompany a blog post, or as stand-alone item.

The creative team at Open Arms of Minnesota, which includes creative director Kelly McManus and communications director Susan Pagani, created several infographics examples for their 2010 Annual Report. Open Arms cooks and delivers free, nutritious meals to people living with chronic and life threatening disease in the Twin Cities metro area.

Infographics Examples: Open Arms

McManus says that using infographics design throughout the annual report — a page in each section, including donors, clients and volunteers — was part of a strategic decision to provide more transparency and clarity. “We wanted it to be more accessible to everyone — not just those who read the entire report cover-to-cover. Before, it was onerous to read. We had done a lot of interviews with donors and clients and we wanted to differentiate this one to show how much we did this past year. This has brought a level of fun to it,” she says.

Compelling Infographics For Your Design Practice

Good Infographics can be a handy tool for your own firm’s internal marketing and self-promotion. Use it as an opportunity to put on your visual marketing design hat and share what interests you and your team, in your own voice. That’s what Lemon.ly, the design firm hired by Palm Beach Opera, did last year at Halloween, with their piece Halloween CostumesPop Culture Favorites, using almost no text.

Good Infographics Examples: Lemon.ly

In a more recent self-promotion, the Lemon.ly team similarly created Avengers, Assemble to coincide with the movie’s launch along with “a call for comic book nerds” on their social networks, and subsequently collecting somewhat unscientific, crowd-sourced data. Eventually this yielded a fun piece, which breaks down the Avenger heroes across different skill sets.

Avengers Infographic design

Tips for Achieving Great Infographic Design

Before creating infographics, it’s important to determine at the outset what your overall goals are, and what message you want to convey. Find the story you want to tell with graphics, and mine your data to locate the facts that support that  idea.

You also will need to provide some copy that accompanies the graphics which support this theme. For example, we developed these infographics for the site nonprofitmarketingguide.com for their 2012 Nonprofit Communication Trends report. Note the headlines and text that accompany each section.

Infographic design examples

Infographic Examples

I discussed this process with Patrick Moroney, an infographic designer at Julia Reich Design. “Good infographics relate to and support an over-arching idea that’s trying to be expressed,” he says. On the flip-side, “bad infographics are extraneous or eye candy.” His advice for clients? “Be prepared to work collaboratively with us to determine the narrative you’re telling, and help us prioritize the data that best supports this.”

Dadisman provided the designers at Lemon.ly with final text that she determined in advance that the Palm Beach Opera infographic design needed to include, dividing it into three sections: 1.) General opera statistics.  2.) Things you didn’t know about opera. 3.) Details about their 50th anniversary season. “We gave [our designers] free reign over the plot information section because they were not opera people and the audience are non-opera people. And they went from there.”

Good Magazine InfographicsColumn Five created the above infographic in collaboration with GOOD, an organization that has undoubtedly mastered distilling data into infographics and engaging readers further into stories using data visualization. See more infographics examples from GOOD.

Remember These Three Tips when Designing Infographics

  • Focus on the storyline. John Meyer, CEO at Lemon.ly, advocates thinking “like you’re back in college writing a paper. What’s the thesis? That becomes the title.” Then, consider three main points you want readers to remember when they’re done reading. Finally, include a call to action. You can direct readers to download an app, sign an online petition, or share the research findings on Facebook. “You’re trying to make your audience feel something or know something, so you want them to go out and do something with this new knowledge they have,” Meyer says.
  • Know your client and their audience. This is the same for creating infographics as it is for any design project. “Consider the audience you’re trying to speak to and the voice of the brand you’re speaking through,” Meyer suggests. Is it a sales voice and internal? Meant to accompany a press release or pitch? Or conveying a narrative based on research?
  • Success is determined on a case-by-case basis. “It may not mean your work’s been featured on mashable.com,” Meyer says. “It can be a very specific success,” Meyers says, citing a wine blog as an example. If you reach those readers and they understand the story you’re trying to convey, then it’s successful.”

Pitfalls to Avoid When Creating Infographics

One of the most challenging aspects to creating infographics is getting good data to work with. Ferzoco agrees. “Finding data is a challenge. All I know is it has to tell a story when you get it or it’s useless. I’ve been given a million pieces of data that go nowhere and it frustrates everyone,” he says.

What do you need to know? Why do you need to know it? Kathy Nelson, a data analyst at K. Nelson Research, says that the client’s answers guide the entire data collection and analysis processes, as well as the infographics that follow. “Data cannot speak for themselves” Kathy says. “So without the framework that the client provides, the data will be mute.” Once relevant data exist and their message is clear, the infographics process is a matter of visualization and refinement.

 Here’s a quick list of helpful tips to avoid the above pitfalls:
  • Limit the amount of text. If there’s more text than graphics, an infographic design may not be the best medium for the message.
  • Make it short in size. Don’t make viewers scroll and scroll forever. Instead focus on one story element. If it must be long, create a series of graphics.
  • Ensure quality control. Make sure you have good data and source it by listing citations (see  the bottom of Lemon.ly’s graphics for examples).
  • Each design choice makes a statement. Carefully consider color choices and extraneous visual details.

 The Business of Designing Infographics

The more compelling the information in your infographic, the more people are likely to share it, like it, add it and mention it. So that equates to more traffic driven to that page, thereby boosting your page rankings. By promoting your piece thoughtfully, you can increase the likelihood of this happening.

3 Ways Infographics can Boost Page Rankings

  1. Optimize infographics with keywords. “Bots” can’t read the text in your graphic (typically a jpeg or png file), but any image inserted on a site can be optimized by adding a title, introduction and alt text (that’s text you see in lieu of an image on a site if the image loads slowly) into the HTML code. Use these words in the title.
  2. Incoming traffic. Since infographics can be easily shared via e-mail and social networks, a good infographic drives people back to your site to see the graphic in its original context to possibly learn more, or get a better view of it. Make it easy for users to share the piece by adding sharing buttons: Twitter, Facebook, Google +1, Pinterest, etc.
  3. Time spent. An informative piece on a topic with wide appeal makes a web page more interesting, so visitors are more apt to spend time on that page.

Measuring the ROI of Infographics

Measuring an infographic’s success can be difficult, but defining internal expectations can be helpful. “We knew we weren’t going to get direct ticket sales from it; it’s more of a mission to further our presence in the community and about opera  in general,”  Dadisman says of the Opera infographic design. “It’s hard to measure ROI. The evidence is anecdotal. It’s more of a long-term effort to build brand awareness. We can watch the infographic make its way around the internet with very little effort after the initial posting, so we know people are sharing it and spreading the word.”

At Open Arms, McManus agrees. “Donations went up last year but we can’t pin it directly to our infographic efforts.”

The Value of Infographic Design

While they might seem seem like a passing fad, creating understanding through visuals is an activity that has been around since the dawn of humankind. Whether infographics stick around in their current form, or morph into something more motion-based or interactive, they remain a tool that can provide value to your organization — or your clients’ — by using data in an attractive and engaging way.

Dadisman appreciates the impact infographics have had on her marketing efforts, and plans to create more in the future. “It is the vernacular right now. Most people are visual learners. The arts are perfect for this form of communication.”

Meyer concurs that “trends may come or go, but communicating data through visuals will always remain. It’s a fun space to be in and it’s changing rapidly. Every client, every project is its own story.”


 3 Additional Resources for Designing Amazing Infographics

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