Creating an Effective Infographic — Part 2

I recently posted the first 3 steps in my Infographic workflow. Like I mentioned previously, my goal is to share my workflow with you in hopes that it will assist you in either (a) getting started on your first Infographic or (b) refining your own workflow.  Last time we covered (1) Ideation, (2) Gathering Data and (3) Finding the Narrative.

This week we will be covering the remaining steps: (4) Planning the look and feel, (5) The Design Process and (6) Going Live.

4. Planning the Look and Feel

I’ve broken this stage into three steps: (A) Infographic type and Orientation, (B) Style, Color and Fonts and (C) Wireframming.

A. Infographic Type and Orientation

Your choice will depend on the nature of your data. Here are the two categories we break Infographics into:

1. Data Visualization

Use this format if you have lots of numerical data and/or you and will be creatively utilizing a combination of charts, spatial comparisons, graphs, diagrams or flow charts. This format focuses on the visualization of numbers/data and the written content is succinct and brief.

Examples:
The Content Omniverse
Toilet Talk

If you have a large set of complex data you may want to consider an interactive Infographic which gives you more flexibility in the way you display the data.
Examples:
Life Abroad
Birth Year Inflation

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 10.21.56 AM2. Article Graphics

Top ten lists, interesting facts, or tips and tricks are examples of data types that result in what we classify as article graphics. Internally we define them as “a mash-up of traditional copy and data visualizations.” Article graphics use images to tell a story in a visual way and focus less on the data and more on storytelling. When done right, an article graphic conveys a message in a simple and consumable way.

Examples:
The Dating Games 2012
The Ultimate Zelda Gamers Guide

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 10.24.25 AM3. Orientation

Portrait: If your Infographic will be used online, portrait will be your best choice 99% of the time. To ensure it will display well on older/smaller monitors try and stick to a width around 800-900 pixels wide.

Landscape: If your Infographic will not be used online and is solely for print, then landscape is a valid option. For work being posted online use landscape only when you have good reason (which you will rarely, if ever have). It’s a pain to have to scroll horizontally, and far worse when you have to scroll horizontally and vertically. Bottom line – don’t select landscape for the heck of it.

B. Style, Color and Fonts

Finding Inspiration

The first thing I do at this stage is a Google Image search for Infographics of similar topics. The goal here is not to copy others, but to analyze what has already been done and brainstorm how you can take it to the next level.  In addition to analyzing other Infographics, do a more general image search on your topic and get to know the space. You will find that certain topics have iconic colors, fonts, themes and imagery that you can utilize to enhance your visualizations. 

Pick an Artistic Style

Choose a style that matches your topic, the client’s brand and the message you are trying to convey. For example, if you are doing an Infographic on cutting edge technology make sure to use a graphic style that is slick and hi-tech.  If your topic is lighthearted, go for something relaxed and fun.  If you don’t put thought into this, you are losing out on a big opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of your message. 

Pick an Appropriate Color Palate

Colors evoke emotions, feelings, and moods.  Use color to your advantage. Make sure the color palate you choose is evoking emotions that support your topic. 
Examples:

  • Black = serious, sophisticated, elegant
  • Blue = trustworthy, stable, serene, cool
  • Brown = wholesome, organic, down-to-earth
  • Gray = neutral, mature
  • Green = safe, environmental, friendly
  • Orange = emotional, positive, exciting
  • Purple = opulent, contemporary, royal
  • Red = passionate, negative, dangerous, hot
  • White = pure, peaceful, clean
  • Yellow = cheerful, sunny, cautious

Once you have considered how you can use color to evoke the correct emotional response you need to define your palate. Adobe has a great free tool for doing this. Check out kuler.adobe.com.  It’s a great place to go for inspiration as well as a tool to quickly create and share the perfect palate.

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 10.26.12 AMPick Appropriate Fonts

Fonts also evoke emotion, convey the tone of the message and affect the way your audience perceives what they are reading.  Stop for a moment and think about your own handwriting. What does your handwriting infer about you? It may infer that you are fun, angry, detail oriented, messy or lazy. Whether those conclusions are true or not, the characteristics of your unique handwriting convey a message beyond the written word.

A message written in Comic Sans will come across as less serious than it would in Times New Roman.  The message itself is no different, but the font brings with it a story of its own. Use this to your advantage! Choose fonts that support your topic and enhance the tone and theme of your message.

Here are some sites that to help you expand your font library for FREE:

B. Wireframe

By this point you’re anxious – it’s nearly time to get your design on!  Don’t skip this step in your excitement. The time invested in putting together a thoroughly planned wireframe will pay off handsomely by reducing the amount of revisions down the road.  Your wireframe can also be sent to a client/manager for approval. It allows you to get your vision down on paper and get feedback before you spend hours on the actual design only to find that you have to start over from scratch.

Wireframe Methods

I choose the freedom and ease of a hand drawn wireframe. I feel I have more creative freedom when sketching on paper than at the computer. I’ve noticed that digital wireframing tends to hinder my creativity and the results seem more templated.  However, once I have sketched out a finalized wireframe, I often turn to the computer and lay out my final wireframe in Adobe Illustrator where I can more accurately define the size of elements and overall spatial organization. This is the wireframe I deliver to clients for approval as it most accurately reflects what the final product will be. 

Don’t Make Your Readers Think

Most people have the online attention span of a two-year-old. As you begin your wireframing it is critical that you keep this in mind.  An effective Infographic is thoughtfully organized so that a reader is led from introduction to conclusion with as little effort as possible. We want our readers to analyze and internalize our message and then act upon it. We can’t have them wasting any time wondering “What is this for?”, “what does that represent?”, “where do I look next?”, etc. 

Recommended Reading:

I highly recommend reading the book “Don’t Make Me Think” by web usability guru, Steve Krug.  The book is written specifically about web design, but the concepts are directly applicable to effective Infographic design. It’s a short and easy read giving practical examples and real world help. Trust me, it’s worth your time.

Setting Up a Visual Hierarchy

Arranging page elements into a clear visual hierarchy is one of the most important things you can do to put your readers on an effortless ride from start to finish. A visual hierarchy (a) portrays the relationship between elements and (b) visually prioritizes content by order of importance allowing users to effortlessly follow visual cues.

None of this is new.  Visual hierarchies are all around you – in newspapers, magazines, websites and billboards. The everyday reader just doesn’t think about it, and that’s exactly the point – they shouldn’t have to think about it. However, you are not the everyday reader and visual hierarchies are an important tool in your arsenal.

Here are a few of the most important techniques:

  • Give greater emphasis to the most important elements. Do this with the careful and consistent use of color, size, placement, special effects (like drop shadows), font weight or some combination of these.
  • Visualize the relationship of elements through the use of obvious headers, consistent styling or by placing them in a clearly defined area. As you do this, take special care not to overcrowd a defined area. You want it to be obvious that you are grouping similar elements but you don’t want to cram everything in such a small space that your text is touching the outside margins or there is so little white space that it feels overwhelming.

Utilize the Space Cleanly and Creatively
Be creative with your use of space. Frist, think of how you are going to creatively visualize or display your data or information and then piece it all together in a custom fit way. I think this Infographic is a wonderful example of using space effectively and creatively: Nursing Your Sweet Tooth.

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 10.28.26 AMIt is obvious to me that the designer put a lot of thought into how they could creatively visualize the data. They organized the elements in a way that showcases their unique & creative visualizations versus the less effective approach of conforming your visualizations to fit into a predefined and templated spatial organization. As a result, this Infographic feels very high quality and custom.

 5. The Design Process

Design is a PROCESS, not a checklist. You don’t check off step 1 and move on to step 2. Rather, you should constantly be cycling through the steps (Design > Evaluate > Revise) for each element you are working on.  The process is simple in theory, but takes constant effort and thought.

When evaluating your work ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the message clear?
  • Am I thoughtfully utilizing color, size, placement, special effects, font weight etc. to create an effective visual hierarchy?
  • Am I being consistent?
  • Do I use the same colors and other characteristics for similar elements?
  • Am I using consistent margins?
  • What can I simplify, clarify or make more obvious? – There is almost always something
  • Have I met the overall goals of the Infographic? (Call to action, emphasis of a certain message, etc.)

Once you feel that your design is clean, clear and effective, get some fresh eyes on it. Find a coworker, friend or anyone nearby and ask them if they could spare a few minutes to go through your Infographic. Make sure they know you are looking for honest feedback and won’t find offense to anything they say (and then don’t).

As they are going through it DO NOT help them in any way. Quietly observe them as if they had stumbled upon it organically. When they are finished ask them the some questions that will help you evaluate the effectiveness of your design. Be careful your questions don’t coax them to say what you are hoping to hear. That won’t do you any good. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Can you summarize the message for me?
  • What did you find confusing and why?
  • What feelings or emotions did you experience and at what point?
  • What improvements would convey the message more clearly?

Thank them for their help and let them know that their feedback has been very helpful.

6. Going Live

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 10.34.25 AMYou’ve spent hours bringing your Infographic to life and now it is time to release it to the world.  Posting your Infographic online can be very rewarding. However, if done carelessly it can be quite the disappointment. All too often great work is poorly displayed and the results fall short of their full potential.

Here are some examples of things you should discuss with your client when you deliver the final Infographic:

  • A well-formatted webpage will better showcase your work and maintain the credibility of the Infographic. If their site looks bad, give them some simple suggestions they could implement to clean it up.
  • If they are going to post the Infographic on their blog they will likely want to write an introduction or summary. Ensure that it is well written and supports the Infographic’s main message.
  • The client may need to resize the Infographic to fit on their site. This is usually the case for a blog. Reducing the image size may cause text to become illegibly small.  Suggest that when a user clicks on the resized image that the full size image will open up in a slick lightbox or in a new tab.  This enables the Infographic to be displayed at the size you intended. For lightbox implementation code and examples check out this site.

Your job is not done at delivery.  A good designer always does their best work and as a result sees their work as an extension of themselves.  Be actively involved and make sure your Infographic gets the online debut it deserves.