iMedia Connection

9 reasons your infographic stinks

Lisa Wehr

Infographics have essentially been around since cave paintings, but the explosion of their popularity has everyone drawn to them like they're the newest, hottest thing around. In the digital marketing world, the use of infographics has been on the rise because they are incredibly useful in relating information fast to an audience that often has an attention span of about seven seconds.

9 reasons your infographic stinks

Infographics are a quick and attractive way to wield complex information into something more perceptible. They are also a design opportunity, which means a branding opportunity. And, honestly, they are fun to look at and to create.

As the archives of infographics grow and every marketing Joe jumps on the bandwagon, it's become clear that the medium is not fool proof. In fact, there are some marketers who have really missed the boat on the essence of what an infographic aims to do. Troves of marketers are making the same mistakes. Here are the most common ones. (And for those of you who prefer to receive this information in infographic form, click here.)

Too much information

The essence of an infographic is to distill a lot of data into a more readily digestible form. It might take a little bit of work to reduce a complex idea, or several ideas and statistics, but it's an absolute must or the infographic will end up looking chaotic and effectively becoming a disheveled representation of whatever the message was intended to be.

Before any design begins, edit the information just as you would edit any summary. Take out superfluous information and leave in the most impactful and useful information. Leave out redundant facts that might cause a loss of interest and don't try to shoehorn in a tidbit that doesn't offer any substance.

Data is equally weighted

There should always be a hierarchy within the information. The bottom line is that it's boring to simply be shown a picture and a percentage and then another picture with a percentage. Once the summary has been created, the next step should be to decide what the key messages are and which parts of the summary are supporting ideas. This organization ensures that the key points are heard and supported rather than expecting the viewer to decide what's important about the information. After all, the purpose of the infographic is to offer a simple interpretation of a collection of facts or ideas.

Too much copy

If you really need to describe your data with a lot of text and descriptions, then an infographic is not the way to go. The idea is to distill the data into a visual representation so it's a quick read. A viewer should be able to look at the graphic or illustration and need very little text to digest the information. Obviously not everything can be described by image alone, so text is used to describe what the image represents with a succinct explanation, such as showing that you are making a comparison in one area and showing cause and effect in another. Use brief text that is to the point. The popularity of infographics stems from the quick-read, entertaining dissemination of facts and opinions, so to clutter them with too much copy defeats the purpose.

Content isn't organized

Translating statistics into a visual story should not look like an '80s junior high school student's sticker-covered Trapper Keeper. Organize the content so that there is a sense of story in which one piece of information leads into another or results in another statistic. This organization will also serve as a content wireframe for the designer to base an actual wireframe on.

By highlighting key data, it becomes more visually exciting and creates something that is more like storytelling instead of reporting. Even if there isn't a beginning, middle, and end, there will likely be a question, testimony or findings, and a hypothetical conclusion as a way to structure the content. From a design perspective, the flow of the content should be seamless, guiding the viewer along from start to finish.

It's not treated like a design project

As mentioned earlier, it's imperative to start with organized content that makes the value of the information clear, just as any other design project would begin. It is important for the designer or designers to have this content structure, especially if they are new to your brand style, but it's key in the process even if they are familiar with your branding. The design should be driven by the content.

Art and copy don't go together

Also like any design project, the marriage of art and copy is paramount. This is the pinnacle of concept deployment and understanding. Select visuals that are relevant to the story. It sounds a bit obvious, but based on some of the strangely metaphorical infographics out there, it needs to be said.

This is the not the type of project to be using metaphors, abstract representations, or complicated illustrations. It's better to keep things clean. If the data is about favorite beers, use simple images of ales or frosty mugs that are easily discernible as beer. Don't use two men holding bottles in a store alongside a family at the check-out with groceries. That could be about any number of things unrelated to selecting beer. Like any other design project, art and copy should work in tandem to reinforce each other without needing to entirely describe what one another is expressing.

Low shareability factor

While it doesn't need to be apparent to the masses, the creator should absolutely have a goal in mind when creating an infographic. Who is it for? What is the purpose? Is it to serve as a promotional or branding piece? Or is it being created as content for boosting SEO?

Answering these questions will set the intention and make it simpler to choose a topic that is relevant to the audience being pursued. Consider where it will be published and who that audience is as well. Is it for a blog or a case study? Even if its primary service is as a printed piece, be sure to publish it online. If social plug-ins are installed, it's even more likely to be shared.

It wasn't made by a designer

It's all too simple these days to go DIY (do-it-yourself) on a project. There is a free or consumer level version of everything and countless tutorials. Unfortunately, this has allowed many to believe they are equipped to bypass hiring professionals for things like design, photography, and website development.

It only works as a print piece

Infographics definitely make great posters and direct mail pieces. When the design lives a digital life, size becomes a much greater issue, one that is too frequently ignored. There are a couple of main things to consider: where it will be published and how much content can be displayed at smaller sizes and remain readable.

If the infographic will be posted on a blog, it can be displayed either at full or partial size and employ a zoom feature for closer viewing. This works well if the main device used for reading blogs is a desktop or laptop monitor. If an infographic is embedded in an email, which is likely to be viewed with a mobile device, the content and design need to be stripped down further. Even if the viewer can zoom in, the display dimensions are quite small and no one wants to scroll and navigate all around a large or detailed image on a phone.

Infographics are clearly trending in the marketing world, so embrace the trend and take the opportunity to create work that will be noticed. Being mindful of the design process will help to maintain high-quality work with longevity so that it can be used to promote your work or services throughout the evolution of trends.

Infographic created by Oneupweb.

Lisa Wehr is CEO and founder of Oneupweb.

On Twitter? Follow Wehr at @LisaWehr. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Stinky pile of poop" and "City info graphic" images via Shutterstock.