We all love infographics don't we? They are a brilliant way of communicating complex data, journeys, services etc. But like most things in design, they are not easy to get right. Things like too much content, not enough levels of data and the use of poor iconography will mean your infographic will not work hard for you, or at least not as hard as it should.
In this article I set out some of the things a client and designer should consider when creating an infographic.
Think about your content and in particular the length. If you want an A4 PDF then the content wants to be about half a page in Word. I know it is tough to edit it down, but less is more. The whole reason an infographic works is because it is not a huge slab of text. Make sure you know the top-level messages you want to communicate. That might be a few big numbers, like 'eight out of ten cats prefer'... or 'International students drink more ale than UK born students'. You know what I mean.
Vary the style of content, for example, mix sentences with figures, include data that needs visualising. Allow for two or three granular levels of content so that the reader can dive in and read more if they need to, or just get the gist at first glance. Keep sentences and sections really short, the shorter the better.
If you are trying to illustrate a journey, for instance a website user's journey, try and edit the content so that each step has a similar amount of information – that will help the reader and the designer.
The style of the infographic should mirror the overall brand identity of the client. Keep it on brand, always. Let's say the subject matter is an entrepreneurial programme for children. Are the children the audience or is it the stakeholder that fund the programme? It can still be on brand, but the style should speak directly to the audience.
Don't mix graphic styles either. If you are using 'flat' graphics or graphics with graduations and transparencies, don't mix them. Try not to use stuff you can buy or download from the internet - obviously it will depend on budget – but it is best not to use. The problem is that when you use bought material it will be generic, it will be ill suited to the client's needs and may look like a short cut – it will be a short cut to mediocrity. Keep your colour palette limited, three colours (and associated tints) is best and make sure your line and stroke widths are consistent.
Orientation and size
Like it or not in this digital age, most people like to print things. So an A4 infographic should be your default format for print. If you need more than one page, that's fine, just use a visual link to help the readers join them together, a consistent masthead will do. In my opinion mixing sizes is not the way forward. Having an A3 and an A4 size as part of a set does not work. When the user prints the A3, the text will be 71% smaller and probably illegible. A Client saying 'they probably won't print it out, they'll just view it on screen' is just closing your eyes to the issue.
A landscape format tends to allow for a better reader experience than portrait, although of course it depends on content. Leave a 10mm boarder free of graphics so that when it is printed out nothing is lost. It will make little difference to your design and a lot of difference to the end result.
Remember, if your infographic is going to be imported into PowerPoint, you have way less room. Think of a PowerPoint slide as a postcard, that is how it will be viewed. So you need to edit each slides content down to be around a quarter of the content that you would have on an A4. If you're designing for social media, you want even less content, think business card size with just one message, no more.
The use of charts and diagrams
The magazine Wired have an 'info-porn' section every month. This stuff is amazing. The data visualisation is outstanding. A pie chart or diagram can deliver a quick visual comparison like no other. Think outside the box, what makes your data interesting? How can it be combined with a visual treatment that reflects the data and is visually engaging? A bar chart rarely ticks the box.
Keep the data segments in a pie chart to less than 10., 20 slices of a pie are hard to visualise. A bar chart handles data that has a large differential better than a pie chart. If you have data that has a big range, a bar chart will deal with it better.
Pie charts and bar charts and all the other charts styles, are great but the designer should not leave them styled as they come out of the data analysis package. The more post design work you add to a chart will make it engaging. But remember this, designers create the chart using the real data and then they 'break it apart'. What does that mean? It means that the data is no longer associated with the design, so if the data changes, the designer has to start again. Always give the designer the final data, saves time, saves money. Agree the style first and then get the real data, at this point us designers create the gold.
You can do a lot with charts, be creative. From your basic chart, of course your should use colour, but consider different shapes, even using a a photograph. What about if you break out the sections? If your bar chart illustrates the number of carrots sold in the UK, why not use carrots instead of bars?
Pie charts can be stacked on top of each other, use concentric 'bands' of data. You name it. The design work that happens after the data is what makes it engaging. If you can 'graphisise' data to be relevant to the data and the client objectives, you are onto a winner.
Icons are the bread and butter of an infographic design. But they must be used with caution. Just adding an icon to a piece of content does not make it more relevant. It's just a thing. The thing about icons is that very few of them are recognised for what they are. We all know the search icon and what it looks like, we all know the document icon. The reason being is that we have seen these icons over and over again and used reasonably consistently. If we were to click on a magnifying glass in a search box and something other than a search was performed, we'd quite rightly be bamboozled.
The magnifying glass is an interesting icon. It means search in some environments, and zoom in, in others. Icons need context.
If you want to use an icon that illustrates something that isn't instantly recognisable, it needs to be accompanied by text. Using symbols and icons to bring content to life is great. But there are a few more things to bear in mind when designing icons for infographics:
Keep the line widths (strokes) the same weight
Use a consistent style: if you are using 'flat' icons, stick to that style
Limit the colour palette: three colours + black works well and of course use tints
Group them together: Clusters are good and vary their size
Creative data visualisation can be amazing and deliver the finest results if the client has the budget and vision.. It is way above the usual remit of an infographic. It is time consuming but the results are outstanding. There are too many options and styles to even begin to discuss in this article. Each visualisation must reflect the content and the main purpose of the data. Below are some examples of what you can achieve.
Infographic design is time consuming. The more bespoke and creative, the longer it takes. We often estimate a number of 'levels' of design input. Some clients want something reasonably straightforward, others want high design values. We will provide an example of both levels and an associated cost. Because they take such a long time, changing the requirements can be costly. Below is a list of stages and our suggested process to ensure the client gets the best results for the best price.
Style: We show our clients different styles of infographics. Styles vary from 3D using photography, illustration etc. These styles will be re-purposed to fit with the client's brand.
Sketch: We often provide a sketch or small sample of the data visualisation to ensure we do not spend too much time doing something that the does not meet the client's vision.
Proof one: This may not be a full proof – that will depend on the complexity of the final job. What it will do is illustrate how the final infographic will look. We expect the client to give us sign off on this proof to proceed to full proof or consider redesigning..
Full proof one: This is the first full proof for the client to check. Remember if the data now changes, the charts will need to be re-done from scratch and may incur an additional cost.
Proof two: After completing the first set of comments and amends, we return an edited proof to the client for approval.
Sign off and supply: Once we received written sign off we will add in any hyperlinks and supply the infographic in the requested format. Links should only be added at this stage. Most Adobe packages require links to be 'hand entered', this takes time. For downloadable PDFs we compress the files to make them the smallest possible. We use additional software for this, including this one.
Clients require infographics in numerous formats. Below is a brief description and the benefits or constraints each format provides:
PDF: The most popular. They can be graphic-rich, have hypertext links and are easily shared. With complex documents, the file sizes can be large.
Jpeg: These can be embedded in documents and websites - they are essentially a 'picture'. The can be small or low-res and the end result not readable.
Animated gif: These are the same as a Jpegs but can be animated to include in social media and embedded in websites. These are only useful for small single messages.
Social media assets: We provide these infographics so that they can added to a tweet, Instagram, Facebook post. They tend to have much less content, perhaps focusing on one element of the data. Think small.
Video: This is the deluxe format, affording animation, voice-over and music. These video infographics can be shared on social media channels and through YouTube, as well as being embedded into website.
PowerPoint: When creating infographics for PowerPoint, the content needs to be broken down into bite-sizes chunks to capture the audiences attention and get across the vital information quickly. In some way, PowerPoint infographics create the biggest challenges.
If you want to create the best infographics, there is no short cut, no online infographics 'tool' that will do the job. Generally the more you spend the better they will be, but most things in life are like that.
If you would like Navig8 to have a crack at your infographic job, all you have to do is drop us a line. We are open Monday to Friday, 10am–6pm or call us on: 020 7813 0373. We should probably create an infographic about that...