How to make an infographic worth a thousand words

As the old saying goes about pictures being "worth a thousand words," so goes the story about infographics. Infographics are a compelling way to represent complex information quickly and clearly. In an infographic, visual symbols and numbers are used with colors, fonts, and labels to make the data more useful. With the flood of information and exponential data points, it is imperative to focus people's attention on not just the valuable data, but the implications as well.

How to make an infographic worth a thousand words

Storytelling is using a linear narrative to guide people and motivate them to surrender to the story being told. As the creative and performance marketing communities work together to make sense of data, we must not squander the opportunity that this format provides. We need to create meaningful infographics that minimize information anxiety by conveying the perspective in the most effective manner. Agencies are tasked with providing creative expressions that connect target audiences with meaningful content -- and infographics are by no means any different. The following are the fundamental factors that contribute to successful infographics:

Understand your audience

As with any communication project, understanding the target audience is vital. In order to know what to present, you must understand why it's important, and that requires an astute insight into your viewer/readership. Ask yourself, what interests them? What are their blindspots? What will motivate action? An infographic can be effective with any audience -- from consumers to business stakeholders. So knowing why they will or should care is the secret to finding a way to visualize something worthwhile.

Verify your data

Information provided should be accurate, as a lack of verifiable sources or a misinterpretation of information sources could lead to the wrong conclusion. This might seem obvious, but the handoff between the data specialists and the creative designers must be seamless. It is most effective when both parties truly appreciate the importance and veracity of the data being presented.

Tell a story

With an infographic, there is a first impression and a macro story -- it must quickly capture the interest of the reader. It must state a problem or key idea upfront, then give a complete solution to the problem, visually elaborating on the cause and effect relationships. For example, this "Teaching to Read Again" infographic tells a story about the lack of readership among adults and its effect on the brain. This is a successful example because it very clearly states upfront the story it will be telling. The visual flow of the infographic leads you step by step through the problem, cause, and solution. The audience gets it without having to focus on every data point. People love stories. And with infographics, be sure to know who the main character is and the conflicts that escalate the story. The more the infographic builds to a crescendo, the more committed your viewers become. Bottom line: Know your story before you publish your infographic.

Prioritize attention

It is like the old story of the professor filling a glass vase with big rocks and then smaller ones. An infographic needs to direct the eye, mind, and heart of the viewer by focusing on what matters most in order of priority. As evidenced by this "Plastics Breakdown" infographic, when you combine too much information together it backfires. The statistics in this example are great -- and truly shocking. However, there is a lack of focus and visual flow. The infographic is set up to visually drive the eye to the bottom right, but there is little pay off to warrant the draw. After a dismal disappointment in the bottom right corner, the eye is left to wander the page, gathering factoids along the way, but never really building toward anything. In reality, this is really two infographics that have been merged. Unfortunately, each of them would be stronger standing alone.

Visualize numbers

The infographic must move the viewer forward in the data >> information >> knowledge >> wisdom continuum. Although the raw data and numbers are integral to an infographic, the numbers must fuse with pictures and charts. They must instigate an emotional response such that the viewer takes a shortcut from cumbersome information processing to tacit and intuitive wisdom. Numbers are compelling and interesting to a small subset of most audiences. Numbers translated into ideas and emotions span all audiences.

Influence action

Good infographics must compress information and make it manageable, so readers can cognitively manipulate and understand the subject. An infographic must uncover new information, or help otherwise unrelated information take on new meaning. The role of each word and visual should be decided so that the story is clear, and insights for understanding and problem-solving are self-evident. The infographic should represent the crux of the matter in a way that changes viewer perception or belief about the topic or the brand. The viewer should be moved to a decision or an action, and ultimately to a new behavior. This is illustrated beautifully in this "Nursing Your Sweet Tooth" infographic that ultimately motivates the reader to reduce sugar intake based on startling data points and comparisons.

Involve viewers

Infographics should not just be pretty pictures. Designers tell stories every day. But with infographics, a sketch can be as powerful as a highly designed visual. A visual reduced to the simplest possible point can enable viewer participation. The viewer does not just view an infographic as cinematic data, but studies, analyzes, and ponders the topic. The best infographics should feel dynamic because the mind is zooming in, measuring, and manipulating the visual information.

In short, infographics are all about visual communication, storytelling, and traditional form and function. If the above factors are considered well, infographics can help create successful results.

Use your infographic powers wisely.

Marc Connor is chief marketing strategist at POSSIBLE.

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"Idea seamless vector pattern with word cloud" image via Shutterstock.

 

Comments

Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis November 28, 2012 at 2:10 PM

Accurate data is essential! So many people want to turn around a infographic so quickly that they don't bother with basic fact checking, or they stick with boring facts that have been rehashed a hundred times. Be sure you're willing to stand by your numbers or be prepared for the fallout.