According to Wikipedia “Infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly.” I propose to you that that is a horribly simplified description; especially if the Infographic is for marketing purposes. In reality an Infographic is a visual object that tells a story, engages viewer emotion and moves an audience to take action. Let’s look at how we go through the creative process of creating an Infographic.
Infographics Plans Contain:
1. Visual Concept
3. Call to Action
4. Data-Point Presentation Styles
5. Story Path
Why tell a story?
First let’s be clear that infographics are non-fictional stories that represent real data found by real research. The reason for a story line dates back to the beginning of time when our ancestors used stories to teach younger generations’ lessons, values, morals, etc simply because most people remember stories and forget data. In this context the story is the path through the data that justifies some call to action. These data based story lines engage the emotions of the audience and as we all know, the more emotion evoked the better.
Infographics are truthful but not 100% accurate
If you ever do the research involved in creating data points for an infographic story line you will quickly realize that the “most important” facts are almost always accompanied by small print documenting exceptions or conditions to the data. Infographics cut through the small print in order to reduce 100 pages of research to 5-7 clear charts on one page. That being said, the small print of exceptions and conditions hardly ever make the cut.
Never have a researcher do the infographic
Often reports hold so much detail that readers are drowned in information. Because of this, the readers are more focused on the deep breath they will take at the end of the report than they are on the treasures of the sea of information around them.
Researchers are, by nature, detailed technical experts far too engaged with details to give them up. They represent .01% of the audience for the information with a personal agenda related to the details. Because Infographics contain highlighted points often without the details they are for the other 99.99% of the audience. If you are interested in outliers or the small print you will have to join the .01% and read the full report.
While researchers are great resources, they are almost never the infographic decision makers. They collect the information and pass it along to somebody who can highlight what’s “most important” and cut out the fat.
Like all stories, visual stories must have a plot that will associate the facts into a story line to create your visual concept. The visual concept will set the style and approach to the infographic and give the audience of your story a foundation to follow. In simple terms, your visual concept is the theme of the entire infographic. It is important that your visual concept is highly relevant to the experiences of your research and of your audience so be sure to pick it wisely.
This is where most people start and it is okay to do that but you have to remember that you are building a story so your data points have to fit on the story path. If you start with data points then you need to select twice as many as you need so you can throw some out in the latter stages of the design. In most cases the data points will have textual support but this needs to be kept to a minimum and you have to avoid the trap of rewriting the report. Data points will need to be reduced to a graphic or iconic image with minimal textual support. What textual support you do have will ultimately be reduced to bullet points not narratives.
Data points come in various flavors and they need to be organized on the story path in the proper order. Here is our recommendation:
5. Call to Action
You always start with the need of the audience followed by the solution that serves that need. This is followed by evidence that the solution will work and a call to action. In many infographics we see either weak or entirely missing calls to action and we wonder why someone would do that. You identified the challenge proposed a solution and then failed to ask for the action you want taken.
Call to Action
I may be Ms. Obvious here but this is the reason that you did all this work; don’t make it weak! Your call to action needs to be direct, simple, and to the point. Never assume that your audience knows what to do with the information you give them. Give them the action you want them to take because leaving it to their imaginations is a very dangerous business practice.
Data-Point Presentation Styles
For each data point you need to decide on how that that will be presented and how that style will fit with the other data points so the document feels like a cohesive story. After you do a number of these you will start to realize there are a limited number of styles that fit with your dataset. Once the style of presentation is selected the data points should be roughed into the style so you can start to visualize what the story will look like.
Like any other project an infographic will go through design process steps. Here are the typical steps:
1. Goals & Objectives
2. Audience Persona
3. Business Data
4. Pencil Drafts
5. Concept Roughs
7. Final Art
Goals & Objectives
This is the first step in the process and it is best if it comes from the highest levels within the business. If you cannot get the CEO to champion the idea, in most cases, it is best to not attempt the project. Goals and objectives typically communicate the value of the research to your customers and should be very broad.
This is a critical and often overlooked part of project specifications. Lacking in this area is setting the project up for failure. It is nearly impossible to create a communication for an audience that you do not have a profile for. Often times this is passed down as “All Customers” or the “Whole Market” and those have to be pushed back because the broader the persona the more difficult it is to put real power in an infographic. You have to understand the experience set of the audience so you know where the conversation starts. The stronger the shared experiences the better the design can talk like the audience and the stronger the message will be. On the other hand, you do not want an audience so tightly defined that the number of people in the audience approaches zero.
This is what created the need to communicate something of value to someone important and normally it is TMI (Too Much Information). The mission of the infographic is to create a visual that communicates key metrics to the audience. Step one in this phase is to collect lots of data and isolate the key metrics that hold the most value for the audience. This phase is all about finding and summarizing raw data in databases and long winded narratives and using it to create charts and bullet points containing the most important or relevant pieces of information.
The Value of a Pencil Draft
In this day and age you have to wonder why we would recommend going through pencil drafts. The reason is that you need to get the design outlined with maximum engagement from the stakeholders in the project. Programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop inhibit input because of the technical operation barrier. Input in the earliest stages is critical to the creative process and the engagement of your key staff. Pencil drafts do this better than any other form we have found. If you are like me and do not have God given artistic skills that is fine. You can print out pictures, cut them up with scissors, and then use a pencil to fill in the blanks between the printed images. This can also be done with post it notes on a white board. The value here is to get all of the stakeholders engaged as early as possible so when the finished product emerges you have buy-in.
Before you engage outsiders
There is a certain amount of magic involved in transforming data into infographics and it requires skills that many businesses do not have internally. This does not mean that you should not engage in the process. In most cases you should complete items 1-3 before turning to external experts. There are plenty of experts that can guide you through the creative process but the strategy of your business should always start and be owned internally.
Clearly Infographics are a broad topic and cannot be covered in a single book never mind a blog article. Our intent here was to isolate marketing infographics and provide the reader with a short teaser on this subject. Infographics are creative endeavors and as such you will get many different opinions so as they say your mileage on these ideas many vary.
The (NOSE) organization of the infographic is based on work done by Dr. Tom Sant from Hyde Park Partners. For our purposes we added a call to action although it would be reasonable to put that into the evidence part of his concept. Dr. Sant is an excellent author and speaker.