Designing Knowledge: An Introduction to Infographics

Data is everywhere we look. Traffic signs warn you of an approaching sharp curve or an area where deer commonly cross. A yellow sign in a public bathroom warns you that the floor is wet. Graphics of a man and a woman on the bathroom doors help us quickly determine which bathroom we should enter. Mankind has been communicating by drawing for millenniums, so it is no surprise that we naturally process information faster when it is accompanied by an image.

As mankind’s knowledge has grown more complex, and as the channels for us to communicate our knowledge to a wider audience has grown, so has the attention paid to how the information is actually presented. We can no longer afford to ignore that our knowledge stretches across many countries, languages, and classes. Adding to the complexity is the rapid adoption of mobile technologies and  a decreasing chance to capture an audience’s attention.  From 2000 to 2012, the average attention span has decreased from 12 seconds to a mere 8 seconds. That isn’t a lot of time when you have a complex piece of information to share!

Infographics, for example, are a way for you to share your complex data quickly using maps, charts, diagrams, and art.

Starting with the Basics

Before you can even start to daydream what your awesome infographic will look like, you will need to spend some time building the foundation.

  1. Do you have unique data that would be valuable to your target audience?
  2. Do you have a story to tell with the data, and has it been told before?
  3. Simply put, would you read it?

Just like any good movie, there needs to be a solid and interesting story behind your infographic. Creating a beautiful graphic is rarely enough to make your infographic stand on its own.

Tips for a Successful Infographic Design

Working knowledge of colors and composition will go a long way in making your infographic easy to understand. When I start an infographic, I use the following process to form a game plan:

  1. Find the main focus of the infographic
  2. Find speaking points that elaborate why the focus of the infographic is important
    1. Try to limit the number of points to seven or less
    2. Have 1-3 facts to support each speaking point.
    3. Keep text brief and let the data speak loudest
  3. Brainstorm and sketch a rough layout. Consider:
    1. Horizontal vs vertical
    2. Format. Are you doing a comparison? Telling a story? Is your topic quirky enough to use a board game design as inspiration?
  4. Take your sketch into your favorite graphics program (I personally love Illustrator) to add color and typography. Look to photographs and the world around you if you do not have a predefined color palette and identity. Pick no more than three typefaces that are easy to read and be consistent with how you use them. Multiple fonts will make your design busy and distract your readers.
  5. Be sure to credit your data sources at the bottom.

Once you are satisfied with your infographic, be sure to have members of your team review it for clarity and typos. Once you are sure that all of your I’s are doted and your T’s are crossed, share it with the world via your favorite social channels. To learn more, check out this infographic blog by Visual.ly about infographics or five do-it-your-self tools.