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Though a relatively new concept in graphic design, infographics have quickly established themselves as important tools for communicating information in a way that is both engaging and effective. Even though you have almost certainly seen an infographic before, you may be unsure of what it is called, or even its purpose. In this article, we’ll explore the what, who, when, where, why, and how of infographic creation and implementation, as well as the different infographic styles and what makes them effective.

What Is an Infographic?

It’s hard to imagine a time when infographics didn’t exist, but according to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the word (with the current definition) was as recent as 1979. An infographic is a way to communicate information via graphic elements, such as graphs, diagrams, or illustrations. Their purpose is to visually communicate concepts in a way that both captures attention and aids in comprehension.

For infographics, the more visually appealing, the more effective it is. Though unique visuals are powerful at grabbing attention, it’s important that they do more than just that. The visuals should help readers understand the information and help them remember the concepts the infographic communicates.

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Example of an Infographic on Libraries

Image via Flickr by Libraries Team

Who Uses Infographics?

Infographics are utilized in every industry. Their visual nature allows for quick and easy understanding of otherwise complex concepts, regardless of the target audience’s age or level of education. They are a truly universal mode of communication. Though infographics can be used regardless of the field or audience, different types of infographics may be more effective than others for a certain industry or set of information.

Here are a few examples of professions that regularly employ infographics and the styles that they find most effective for their field:

  • Marketers: Marketing strategists often use infographics to increase engagement from their audience and build brand awareness.
  • Consultants: In order to provide a visual project timeline, many consultants utilize a timeline infographic. Consultants also use infographics to simplify any industry-specific concepts for their clients.
  • Governments: Governments often use infographics to communicate the data they gather from censuses and to share general statistical information.
  • Educators: Infographics are sometimes utilized by educators in order to simplify concepts, making them easier for students to learn and memorize.
  • Nonprofits: Nonprofits sometimes use infographics to create a lasting visual impact. They’re used to raise awareness and provide information about a nonprofit’s cause, as well as to promote events and fundraisers.

When Should You Use an Infographic?

You should consider creating an infographic any time you want to communicate information in a way that is both easier to understand and more visually engaging for the viewer. The visual nature of infographics makes them more impactful, but it also allows information to be communicated more quickly. If you’re wanting to catch the viewer’s attention and hold it for enough time to get your point across, an infographic will likely be the most effective mode of communication.

What Platform Should You Use to Display an Infographic?

Choosing the right platform to display your infographic is dependent on a number of factors, including:

  • Target audience: In order to choose the most effective platform to display your infographic, you’ll need to consider your target audience. For example, if your target audience is schoolchildren, you should display your infographic in places like teaching forums, schools, or libraries. However, if you’re wanting to communicate to college students, your locations would be much different, and would likely include a platform like social media.
  • Infographic style: Different infographic styles will lend themselves to different platforms. Animated infographics, for example, will need to be displayed using online resources. This can be on social media platforms, in editorials, or even as supplemental resources in a tutorial video. Regardless, their animated nature will necessitate the need for a channel that supports this function, whereas a static infographic could still maintain its effectiveness when displayed in a magazine or on a billboard.
  • Type of information: The purpose of an infographic and the information it communicates will have a strong influence when choosing the most appropriate platform to display it. For example, if the information explores the use of technology for small businesses, you would want to consider displaying it on a blog that provides information and support to small business owners.

Why Are Infographics Used?

Infographics are powerful tools for breaking up complex ideas and information into small, easy to digest chunks. When a concept is hard to succinctly explain, an infographic can be an extremely effective medium for communication. Their usefulness spans industries and can be effective regardless of a target audience’s age or education. They are more commonly used for:

  • Providing an overview of a topic
  • Explaining a complex process or procedure
  • Displaying data
  • Summarizing a long document, article, or report
  • Comparing and contrasting several different options
  • Raising awareness about something

Related Content: Everything to Know about Making Infographics

How to Create an Infographic

You can follow these simple steps to make an infographic:

1. Outline Your Goals for the Infographic

Your first priority should be to determine what you’re hoping to accomplish with your infographic. What is your incentive for making it? In other words, what is your “why?”

Pinpoint the Burning Problem

You’ll want to establish clear goals that will be achievable through this mode of communication. Some people refer to this as “defining the burning problem.”

Most people use infographics to provide something extremely specific to an audience. That specific thing addresses a burning problem that an audience possesses or struggles with, and your infographic should offer the solution.

Create a Question Pyramid

After you’ve determined the burning problem you want to solve, you can then use it to create 3 to 5 probing questions that your infographic will address. To do this, you can make a question pyramid that features the burning problem at the very top. Below that, there will be 2 to 3 supporting questions (such as which or what) that provide information about the topic. Below that, there are 1 to 2 probing questions that provide insight by answering the why.

You will use these questions to build a framework for your infographic that will aid in you effectively creating and communicating an engaging story. The supporting questions will establish the foundational information necessary for your audience to fully grasp the infographic’s main topic, while the probing questions will establish the broad insights that provide a solution for the burning problem. By determining the burning problem and the actionable questions that stem from it, you have created an outline that will guide the creation of your infographic’s story.

2. Collect Any Necessary Data

In order to answer the questions you have established in the previous step, you will need to gather some relevant data. You can either use your own data that you have already collected, or you can begin the search for useful information. There are a few strategies for collecting useful data, such as narrowing your Google searches or utilizing data repositories.

To refine your Google search, you’ll want to include search terms that are data-specific and include symbols. Here are some examples of ways to improve your search:

  • Include a specific file format in your search phrase, such as tsv, csv, or xls. For example, you could search: dessert and wine pairing xls.
  • Add the word “data” to your search term. For example, your search phrase could be: dessert and wine pairing data.
  • Exclude terms from your results by using a minus sign. You could, for example, search: dessert and wine pairing -white.
  • Utilize quotation marks when searching for an exact term. For example: “dessert and wine pairing.”

Though there is a wealth of information available through Google searches, it can sometimes be more efficient and less time consuming to search data repositories instead. This is primarily because the data retrieved through general Google searches is often a bit messy and difficult to use as-is, while data repositories provide information that is more accessible and ready to use. Some examples of data repositories and the information they provide are:

  • IPUMS: This organization collects and preserves census data from across the globe.
  • The U.S. Government’s Open Data: This site gives you access to the U.S. government’s compiled data, which covers almost every topic imaginable.
  • AggData: AggData provides locational data for businesses.
  • Google Scholar: This site allows you to search for academic publications through this refined Google search engine.
  • Google Trends Datastore: You can search and download datasets that have been curated by the Google News Lab through this site.
  • American Time Use Survey: The Bureau of Labor Statistics has compiled datasets that provide information on the average amount of time that Americans spend on various activities.
  • Pew Research: This company conducts research, and then gives the public access to the gathered information in an effort to build a more informed and objective general public. Research areas include: U.S. politics & policy, Internet & technology, journalism & media, methodology, American trends, social & demographic trends, global attitudes & trends, Hispanic trends, religion & public life, and science & society.
  • Kaggle: This site allows users to create and upload their own datasets, resulting in a diverse database of information.
  • Statista: Statista offers access to market research and statistics for most industries.
  • Data is Plural: Through this site, you can sign up for weekly newsletters that contain “useful/curious datasets,” or you can view a spreadsheet of their archived data with resource links.
  • Cool Datasets: This site offers access to data that spans various fields of research and specialties, including: government, entertainment, machine learning, and other miscellaneous topics. The type of information on the site is relatively random, but has been self-dubbed as “cool.”

If you’re unable to find the relevant data by using these methods and resources, you may want to consider conducting your own research to collect the necessary information.

3. Create Visuals From the Data

Once you have figured out the questions you need to answer and have collected the data necessary for answering them, you are ready to decide how you want to visually lay out the information. There are a few things to consider when determining how to visualize your data. You can choose a display style based on the goal of the information. Here are a list of possible goals for your data and the best way to present them:

Exploring Information

Would you like for the audience to discover their own insights by exploring the data? If so, an interactive chart may be ideal for your infographic. Interactive infographics allow the viewer to explore information on their own and they are a great way to encourage engagement with the data. However, developing this style of infographic can be both time-consuming and expensive.

Showing Relationships

If your goal is to reveal complex relationships, you will likely want to choose a style of infographic that allows for comparison. For example, a scatter plot is effective when a set of data has two variables, while a multi-series plot is best used when comparing a few sets of data.

Comparing and Contrasting

When your goal is to showcase the similarities or differences between multiple pieces of data, you’ll want to choose an infographic built for comparison. Bar charts, bubble clouds, bubble charts, and column charts are a few examples of graphs that are effective for visualizing the differences between separate values. If, on the other hand, you’d like to compare the different parts of a whole, then you should consider including a treemap, pictogram, donut chart, or pie chart in your infographic.

When comparing different categories as well as parts of a whole, you will likely need to use either a stacked bar chart or a stacked column chart. Stacked area charts, on the other hand, are great for comparing trends over a period of time.

Providing Information

If your message and data don’t require context in order to grasp the information, then you can provide simple numerical statistics. Though the information is easily digestible, you’ll want to make it stand out by using one or more of these strategies:

  • Use colorful, large text
  • Pair the text with icons
  • Draw attention to the statistic by turning it into a pictograph or a donut chart

Visualizing Trends

You’ll want to utilize different kinds of charts if your data necessitates visually depicting a change over space or time. For example, an area chart or a line chart will be able to represent continuous changes over time, while a timeline will depict specific events over time. If your data is more spacial, you may want to use a choropleth map. You can also utilize a series of choropleth maps when demonstrating a change over both time and space.

Depicting Organized Data

In some instances, you’ll want to show information in an order, rank, pattern, or group. There are a few different ways to effectively communicate this type of information visually, such as:

  • A list can depict order or rank when you need to supply information about each item.
  • A table is a great way to display order or rank when providing specific values for each element of the information.
  • A flowchart can be used to provide order for a process or to supply a visual hierarchy.
  • Mind maps and Venn diagrams represent organized groups of information by using borders and boxes.
  • Pyramid charts, bubble charts, column charts, and bar charts are also useful tools for putting information into an order or rank.

4. Use a template to organize the information

Now it’s time to transform all of your data and research into an infographic that is both clear and concise. Here are a few tips for turning your information into an infographic:

  • Create a flow of information
  • Use a grid layout
  • Find a template

Create a Flow of Information

You can utilize your question pyramid when developing your flow of information and layout. Start by establishing the purpose of the infographic by reworking the burning problem into your main header. You can then use charts to answer your question pyramid’s supporting questions before wrapping it up with another chart that targets your probing questions.

Use a Grid Layout

Using a symmetrical grid when designing your infographic is a great way to organize all of your elements in a fashion that is both coherent and easy to follow. It provides organization for your data, as well as ensures that the viewer will consume the information in the desired order. These layouts often make use of our learned habit to visually consume things from left-to-right. Here are a few grid layout options:

  • A single-column or row with a centered layout provides a linear flow.
  • Two-column layouts are great for comparing information.
  • A multi-section layout can be used when the data doesn’t require the reader to follow a specific order.

Regardless of which layout you choose, providing equal spacing between the infographic’s elements will establish a sense of balance and structure.

Find a Template

If you’re not comfortable making an infographic from scratch, there are a ton of online resources and templates that will help you create a visual representation of your data. When choosing a template, focus on the structure. The design and style can be manipulated after the fact, but you will need to lay the basic foundation first. Consider the number of elements you need to include and whether there’s a necessary flow of information.

Once you’ve chosen your template, just input your data and start building.

5. Incorporate Style and Design

After completing these steps, your infographic will be almost complete. Next, you can choose the style and design elements that will make your data pop, and catch your viewer’s eye. Here are the elements that you’ll want to pay special attention to:

Tackle the Text

Infographics should rely heavily on images to tell their story, with only necessary text to provide context and supplemental information. Make sure you choose your words wisely and keep your text limited to short paragraphs or less. Additionally, make sure that your word choices are simple enough for anyone to understand. A useful trick is to pretend, regardless of the intended audience, that you are communicating ideas that a sixth-grader will need to be able to comprehend.

After you’ve simplified your copy, you’ll want to spend some time on an appropriate font. Choose fonts styles and sizes that are readable. Emphasize your infographic’s main components, such as headers and important data, by increasing the size of the font in those areas.

Utilize Alignment, Consistency, and Repetition

Take some time to incorporate graphic elements into your infographic in order to create rhythm, as well as make it more visually interesting. You can use graphic elements to improve the look and feel of your infographic in a number of ways, such as:

  • To emphasize the grid layout we mentioned before by repeating shapes that draw attention to different elements, such as lists and headers.
  • Adding icons is a great way to visualize important concepts in your copy. Just make sure that your icons keep a consistent size, style, and color throughout.

When using repeated elements, make sure that you keep them aligned. Misaligned icons, for instance, can create a sense of imbalance in your infographic that is distracting from the concepts you’re hoping to communicate.

Put Negative Space to Work

Sometimes referred to as white space, negative space refers to areas that are void of any images or text. Negative space can be an important and effective element of design. Here are some useful tips for using negative space when designing your infographic:

  • Create margins around the edges of your infographic.
  • Leave negative space around the grouping of main elements.
  • Make grouped elements more evident by leaving gaps between the unrelated aspects of the infographic.
  • Create distance between colors to ensure that they react positively with one another.

Decide on the Right Colors

Although your information should be communicated clearly without it, color is an extremely effective tool for adding visual understanding to your content. You can start adding color to accentuate things by:

  • Highlighting important data
  • Grouping elements that are related

Remember, neutral colors can be just as useful at polishing a design when used to offset brighter, bolder colors. Make sure that you are aware of complementary colors and color combinations before choosing the palette for your infographic.

6. Share Your Infographic With the World (or Just Your Target Audience)

Now that you’ve compiled your data into a visually stimulating and informative infographic, you can share it with the world. Or just your target audience. You’ll need to determine which platforms to use in order to reach your desired viewers, and then take the steps necessary to get your infographic in front of them.

Different Types of Infographics

The number of different types of infographics varies depending on which source you look at. In all reality, regardless of the number, people are just grouping categories differently. Here are some examples of the different types of infographics you will likely come across:

Statistical Infographics

Statistics are a great way to bolster an argument or make a point because they’re based on factual evidence. Transforming an already compelling statistic into an infographic makes the information more powerful, engaging, and impactful. Part of what makes infographics so effective is that they make information, specifically statistics, easily scannable.

Statistical infographics primarily present numbers, charts and data. They contain less text than the other types of infographics and have less of a narrative flow. In a statistical infographic, there are usually standalone facts that boast large numbers to draw the eye.

Informational Infographics

Informational infographics do incorporate images, but they tend to be more text-heavy. They are usually cumulative pieces that provide an in-depth explanation of a particular topic. Though they are thorough, informational infographics simplify the topic, making even new, unfamiliar, or even niche topics easier to understand.

Timeline Infographics

Timeline infographics follow a chronological order. They typically have a linear structure and have traditionally been used to visualize historical events or information. However, you can also utilize them to:

  • Layout project milestones and deliverables
  • Show the evolution of a product
  • Outline the biographical events of an influential person
  • Plan for big events
  • Organize work experience to create an infographic resume

Process Infographics

Process infographics break up complicated steps and procedures into clear steps by visualizing, summarizing, and simplifying processes. They’re commonly used for things like recipes, marketing strategies, or product guides.

Geographic Infographics

Geographic infographics are used to visually capture regional data. They are a great way to display information that has regional significance. For example, they can be used to:

  • Highlight dangerous regions
  • Analyze global trade patterns
  • Identify where your target market is physically located
  • Visually track population growth
  • Show the impact of weather events

Comparison Infographics

Comparison infographics are an effective way to present different options to an audience. They use visuals and text to break up the information, making the data more easily understood, and allowing people to make an informed choice while avoiding the confusion.

Hierarchical Infographics

For information you need to separate into levels, you should use a hierarchical infographic. This type of infographic usually displays the information through the use of pyramid charts and flow charts, and is used to show the connection between different levels of information. Places you may have seen a hierarchical infographic are:

  • Family trees
  • The breakdown of company hierarchies
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs Chart

Image via Flickr by BetterBizIdeas

List Infographics

List infographics are designed to help you remember information. They do this by highlighting main points and summarizing information through well-thought-out design and visuals. This type of infographic commonly uses icons as bullet points for the textual information.

Resume Infographics

Many people elect to showcase their creativity to potential employers through resume infographics. Though you will likely still want to keep some of the more traditional elements of a resume, adding visuals is a great way to break up the information, as well as make your resume stand out among the other applications. You can either opt for more subtle visuals to incorporate into your resume, or you can simply use the infographic with discretion. For example, you could use the infographic version on your portfolio and/or save it to bring to interviews.

What Makes Infographic Design Effective?

Recognizing the brain’s natural impulse to look for and establish visual patterns is an important aspect of being a successful graphic designer. This concept is especially important to consider when you’re designing an infographic. Keeping in mind, you can create a structure and reinforce patterns in an effort to highlight your intended message. Here are some tricks for creating graphics that are both effective and visually stimulating:

Use Illustrations, Images, and Icons

Imagery is a great way to increase the impact of key information. Not only can visuals make the data more apparent but they also make it more memorable. Visuals should be the primary focus of your infographic as they make your data more engaging to viewers. The most effective infographics have a balance of visuals and text.

Illustrations can tell stories that are both easy to remember and fun. A simple way to incorporate more visuals into your graphic is by adding icons to signal headers. However, you can also create graphics to represent your main points or even turn your visualization into the main feature of the infographic, effectively eliminating the need for almost any text.

Utilize Three Different Font Styles

The fonts you choose for your infographic are equally as important as the visuals. The wrong font could distract viewers from the information, destroying all of the infographic’s utility. A trick for effectively using fonts is to create a text hierarchy. A text hierarchy typically uses three font styles that you apply specifically to different elements of the text. For example, one font would be used for the main heading, a different one would be used for section headings, and the third font would be applied to all of the body copy.

The font used for the main header should be the largest and most attention-grabbing font you use. It will set the reader up for the mood of the infographic and the importance of the information it presents. The section headers should have a font that is still bold, but less stylized, and smaller. Lastly, the body text needs a font that is significantly smaller, not stylized, and easy to read.

Incorporate a Pop of Color

Color is also an extremely important element of good design. Though it can be utilized to make the appearance of your infographic more appealing, it’s also a useful tool for communicating important concepts. For example, colors are often used to draw attention to particularly important data or to indicate a grouping of relevant text. You can choose a pop color that differs from the other colors used throughout the graphic to make important facts jump out to the reader.

Add Shapes, Borders, and Lines

When creating an infographic, you can utilize different design elements to improve and influence the audience’s understanding of the information. Positioning and grouping allow you to organize content, making it easier for the viewer to digest. This can be emphasized by using things like squares, circles, lines, and borders to group or connect elements.

Effective Infographic Design Styles

There are a ton of different infographic design styles. Your design style choice will vary depending on the information you’re communicating and the platform you utilize to display it. The three most common infographic design styles are:

Static Infographics 

Probably the infographic design style that you’re most familiar with, static infographics can display line art, illustrations photography, and more. The key is that the images in a static infographic do not move. This design style is often found accompanying blogs, brochures, articles, and prints, just to name a few. Within the realm of static infographics there are even more design options. We’ve already hinted at a few of these design choices, but here is the full list:

  • Line art: Line art can offer sleek, minimal design in a work of overwhelming busyness. This style is perfect for clean data visualization and simple illustrations.
  • Photography: Incorporating photography can be a great way to add texture and depth to a design. Additionally, your audience will have an increased likelihood of connecting and empathizing with the information if the infographic displays a photo of a human. Therefore, this design style is ideal for encouraging an emotional response.
  • Illustration: Illustration opens up a world of possibilities. This style is especially beneficial when depicting characters or attempting to communicate abstract themes or concepts.
  • Tactile data visualization: Tactile data visualization combines the power of photography with the versatility of data visualization. In this style, real-life objects are paired with visual data – A combination that has a serious impact. It’s a great option when you want to bring data stories to life.
  • Isometric design: Isometric design is a way to give two-dimensional illustrations depth, making them appear three-dimensional. This design style is great for enriching the visual experience by adding depth and perspective.
  • Explorative design: In some infographics, following a logical flow is unnecessary. In those cases, utilizing an explorative design could provide the audience with a unique experience. This style is great for allowing the reader to explore the information that they’re most interested in or navigating through the data based on questions posed and their answers to them.

Animated Infographics 

Animated infographics are true to their name: They are animated, or moving illustrations. This design style is particularly effective if you’re hoping that your infographic will stand out in a social media feed. Other than on social media, they’re often used as a supplement for online articles and tutorials.

Related Content: Interactive Infographic Services

Interactive Infographics

Interactive infographics require the audience to perform an action or give some sort of input in order to display the data. This style is most effective when working with large sets of data, where a simple infographic wouldn’t be able to effectively tell the story. Interactive infographics can allow the audience to explore the information freely, or they could guide the viewer through the information by using a narrative.

Infographics are effective and informative tools that help break down complex concepts. Despite being a relatively new way to relay important information, they have quickly gained popularity, and their usefulness spans industries, age levels, and types of data. One of the greatest aspects of infographics is their ability to engage viewers in the data they are communicating. There are so many different types and styles, that you can create an infographic to relay almost any type of information.

Though they may seem intimidating at first, you don’t have to be a professional graphic designer to successfully turn your research and data into a visual. There are plenty of resources and templates that will guide you through the process, making designing an infographic as easy as it is fun.

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