How to create an infographic

Infographics are being increasingly used in many marketing contexts, and are working their way into the scholarly information sector. They enable people to evaluate and digest information visually, making it easier to scan and, for many people, more memorable. Infographics can also liven up an otherwise densely text-based document or website, and express something more than a stock image.

What is an infographic?

There’s no strong consensus as to what, exactly, an infographic is. For some people, it’s a diagram that visually represents some data. For others, it doesn’t even need to involve data but can be some artworked text. When I use the term infographic, I mean a graphic where the structural and design elements being used to convey the data are meaningful in themselves, either reflecting either the overall topic of the graphic, or a metaphor for that topic. For example, I’m a big fan of Kester Mollahan‘s “Vital Signs” graphics in The Sunday Times Magazine, such as this one that asks “Who makes the most from the movie industry?

Who makes the most from the movie industry?

Who makes the most from the movie industry?
“Vital signs” infographic by Kester Mollahan, August 2013
The Sunday Times Magazine

Top tips for creating infographics

So, how do you go about creating an infographic? Here’s a summary of the process the TBI team goes through when we’re creating infographics. A key point there is the word “team”. It’s helpful to bring together different skills: creative design capabilities are perfectly complemented in this process by data visualization skills, and by broader communications expertise; if an infographic, more than any other, is the “picture that paints a thousand words“, then you need to be clear what those words are before you start painting.

  1. Digest all the information that forms a background to the graphic, and filter this down to the key points that actually need to be conveyed visually – a common mistake is to cram too much information into the graphic, undermining its ability to convey information clearly and quickly.
  2. Find the story – if this were text, what narrative would you weave around the facts to get them across clearly and memorably? This critical part of the process is often overlooked, meaning you get into the visual stages without having a clear and simple sense of what you are trying to convey. Creating an infographic without having “found your story” is like playing Pictionary and being given entire essays to draw instead of nice, concise keywords.
  3. Decide whether the story lends itself directly to a strong visual (as does the example above) or whether a metaphor might be useful to give added visual punch. Statistics lend themselves more readily to direct illustration; metaphors are helpful when you are trying to convey something more complex and abstract, such as the role and function of a service or system, particularly one that might form an essential but not necessarily sexy – or strongly differentiated – part of organizational infrastructure. Talk to the team selling the product / system / service – they might already employ metaphors that you can build on. In the past, I’ve used a rail network to represent a major system consisting of different modules (lines), each of which has multiple features (stopping points) supporting customer processes that, here and there, intersect (junctions). The visual metaphor was then complemented in the surrounding brochure’s copy with verbal metaphors such as “make the connection”, which in turn aligned with the client’s top-level brand messaging about moving content forward.
  4. Choose an image / shape / visual theme that represents the overall story (or its metaphor) and think about how the components of the story can be conveyed in a way that is meaningful within the overall image or visual metaphor – as in my example above, using the different lines, stopping points and junctions of the overall rail system to represent different aspects of the story.
  5. Draft your graphic, applying relevant brand guidelines (for colour palette, typeface, balance of white space, etc). Pare it back as much as you can – avoid unnecessary visual detail and edit text elements as much as possible. Test it out on people who haven’t been involved in the design process and who aren’t familiar with the concept being conveyed – are they quickly able to understand what the graphic is telling them? If so, then you have passed the infographic test!