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Like the Swiss Army knife of graphic design, infographics can be used for myriad purposes beyond research data such as recruiting employees, comparing various items, way finding design, educating an audience and more.

This new tool is handy and agile. It’s the perfect way to display information on the Web. Why? Internet users tend to have short attention spans. Also, The National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that 43 percent of Web users are low-literacy, reading at a 6th to 8th grade level.

nt pintrest

Screenshot taken from Pinterest.com

Scary? You bet. But, wait! There’s more.

It’s important to note that lower literacy isn’t the same as illiteracy. Low literates can read. They just have a bit of difficulty with it. In addition, they may not understand text by scanning a page or skimming over it. They tend to read word-for-word and leave a site if things start to get complicated. Considering these behaviors, infographics make a lot of sense – short, sweet and to the point.

This new technique is also great for higher literacy folks. Higher literates are often rushed and bombarded with way too much reading material. No surprise there. Infographics are an excellent tool that cuts-to-the-chase, distilling complex information into easily scanned, manageable chunks of information.

Plus, when well executed, they can be visually entertaining and a lot of fun.

Oh, wait a second. Did I write “new” in the previous paragraph? Sorry. Idiot moi. I meant to write. “old.” Infographics have been used for a very long time, but called different names. At times, and even today, they’re called information graphics, data visualization or data-viz, information design, or information architecture. In days long gone by, they were referred to by the uncomplicated and straightforward label of illustrations.

“In 1626, Christoph Scheiner published the Rosa Ursina sive Sol, a book that revealed his research about the rotation of the sun; Infographics appeared in the form of illustrations demonstrating the Sun’s rotation patterns.”

“In 1857, English nurse Florence Nightingale used information graphics to persuade Queen Victoria to improve conditions in military hospitals. The principal one she used was the Coxcomb chart, a combination of stacked bar and pie charts, depicting the number and causes of deaths during each month of the Crimean War.” Source: Wikipedia.org

As a matter of fact, my entry into creating infographics was way back in the early eighties (and please, no smart geriatric remarks, thank you very much). Back then I worked for a publishing company that owned several newspapers and magazines. My first stab at an infographic was used as a graphic to illustrate a story about a young girl who had been kidnapped and held in an underground location. There was a lot of information to convey including an annotated floor plan, entrance area, ventilation, etc. My boss must have been happy with it. Shortly after it was published, in an exercise of the blind leading the blind, the company flew me to North Carolina to teach a workshop for their graphic designers and illustrators, about designing infographics.

It seems I’ve written a fair amount, but missed providing a definition. Ooops. Here’s one:

An infographic is a visual rendering that distills complex information and presents it in a simple and clear manner.

Creating Infographics

Now that we know what we’re talking about, how does a designer go about creating them? Let’s take a look under the hood of infographic design.

Infographics, by their very nature, can seem simple and easy-to-create. In fact, there are several web-based services where clients can create their own infographics. That might do the trick for some cash-strapped small businesses. But, depending upon how unique the topic, how complex the data, the client’s goals and their audience’s specific needs, etc. it’s often more effective, and cost effective, in the not-so-long-run to hire a professional graphic designer.

piktochart home screenshot

Screenshot taken from piktochart.com

There’s a reason people say that something looks easy when a professional does it. As for clients creating them on their own, well, not so much.

Discovery

Typically, the project begins like any other graphic design project – with an information-gathering meeting between the client and the designer. I call this meeting discovery, because this is where you discover most of the information about the project.

Here are some of the questions you may want to ask. Odds are, you’ll have more that are specific to you, your client and the project:

• What is the infographic topic?
• Why do you believe you need an infographic?
• What are your goals for this infographic?
o Increase brand recognition?
o Audience education?
o Audience engagement?
• Social media engagement?
• Contact company sales rep?
o Extend content reach?
o Generate business leads
o Build authority and reputation
o Increase audience size?
• How will the content be generated and gathered?
o Client’s own research, surveys, sales data, industry data, etc.
o Third party research, such as a marketing research firm
o Web research
o Who will be responsible for finding and gathering items for potential content?
• Client
• Designer
• Client’s staff
• Outside resource
• All of the above
o Will the final content be in electronic form?
• Who is the target audience?
o Is there an existing audience profile?
o Is there any relevant audience research available?
• Sales data, demographics, profiles, etc.
• Industry trade organizations
• Websites, blogs, social media, discussion groups, etc. audience members frequent
• How will the infographic be used? (i.e.: website, blog, social media, hand-out, etc.)
• How should the design’s tone be perceived?
o Humorous, witty
o Professional
o Technical
o Minimalist
o Cutting edge
o Other
• What is the nature and style of graphics
• Have competitors used infographics? If so, where and how?
• When is the finished art needed?
• What file formats will you need?
• What is the budget for the project?
• Will limited usage rights or all rights needed?
o What type of limited usage rights are needed?
o If all rights are needed, why?

This meeting isn’t the time to toss around specific design ideas, let alone solutions. It’s too early in the process and any ideas will likely be off-target.

Go Team!

Many times, for a project like infographic development you’ll be part of a team. That can mean many things, such as:

• You and the client
• You, a writer and the client
• You, a writer, a project manager and the client
• You and several folks from the client company
• Client’s staff writer(s)
• Public relations department people
• Marketing department folks
• Sales, research and/or other client staff members

When using a writer (and you should when possible) they can either be hired by you or hired by the client. With the former arrangement, you pay the writer, so be sure to get an estimate and include it (with or without a markup) within your proposal or project estimate. If you go with the latter route, the writer bills the client directly. Either way is fine, as long as you both understand what’s required, schedules and who is responsible for this and that. Also, be sure to have a written agreement if you bring the writer onto the project.

It’s also important to document team member’s responsibilities, the schedule and project milestones. Gantt charts are useful as are the numerous project management apps and services such as BaseCamp from 37Signals.

What’s the Story?

After the team has come together, gathered existing research and content, it’s time to sit around the ‘ole campfire and tell some stories.

Everybody loves a good story. What’s the story being told by the content? Organizing the material is key to finding that out. You’ll be tempted to jump in and start designing. Resist that temptation. Taking time to meticulously organize the material will make your life easier in the long run. Your professional life, anyway. Plus, it will be easier to determine appropriate graphics, symbols, typography, color palette and overall style for the infographic. Hitting the nail on the head with the right story, or narrative, makes your design more powerful and memorable to the audience.

So, there you sit in your office surrounded by mounds of dry, boring research reports, statistics and other material. It’s just about as much fun as watching paint dry. That said, if you don’t understand what all the dry, boring material in front of you means, suffice to say you’ll probably have a difficult time teaching it to someone else via an infographic.

Sorting through all this stuff, organizing it in some manner, reading and understanding it all and choosing a narrative can seem a daunting task. If you’re lucky, you’ll be working with a writer and the bulk of this joyous task often falls in their lap.

As your story narrative comes together, you’ll probably spot holes that need to be filled with graphics, additional information, data, etc. to ensure clarity and effectiveness.

With the foundation laid, watch for part two of this series. It will cover more info about infographics and how to create them. Some of that info will include:

• Crafting killer headlines to pique your readers’ interest
• Providing context for your infographic story
• Following the infographic yellow brick road (Sorry, you’ll have to read the next installment to find out what that’s all about)
• Ensuring an infographic’s sharability
• Infographic design tools, use of color and typography
• And much more!