This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
By Aubrey Phelps
Although they don’t represent anything particularly new in the presentation of visual material, infographics are a good way to simplify data and make it visually interesting.
You might say we are in the golden age of infographics.
They’re everywhere, arranging humdrum facts to show connections we didn’t know existed. We share them like crazy, and that makes infographics powerful online marketing tools—if they’re designed properly.
And therein lies the rub: So many infographics get it wrong. But if you know the underlying principles that help shape the truly good ones, you’ll have a better handle on infographics design and how to build a visual winner from the ground up.
You could have all the facts in the world about shoes. But without a unifying idea, what point are you trying to make with your infographic?
Without some type of thesis to work toward, you’ll fail at the most basic point of the graphic: to show how the data is connected. Lack of a driving point also dooms your visual design from the start; I’ve seen too many infographics that are simply a collage of semi-related facts.
Where do you get that unifying idea? It’s hidden in the data. Anemic infographics are boring to read, and the readers know they’re thin on content. Infographics full of facts intrigue people and inspire them to share it.
The most important thing you can do is identify the underlying questions that the facts inspire and visualize the not-so-obvious connections between disparate pieces of data.
If you have to explain the visual elements of your graphic with a lot of text, your design will probably fail to grab readers’ attention. Among the worst sins you can commit when doing online PR is to be boring. Someone should be able to capture the idea of the graphic within the first five seconds and still be diving into the details after five minutes.
It’s an infographic, not an “infotext.” I don’t care how much you love your front—any graphic should be primarily made up of visual elements. And a couple of pie charts don’t make an infographic.
The visual design needs to create patterns that show the relationships and meaning inherent in the data you’re trying to represent. When you reveal connections between ideas that aren’t necessarily intuitive, it sparks people’s interest, and that gets your graphic shared.
Try not to make it too massive. Big isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but there’s definitely a point at which you’ve gone too far, especially if the reader has to scroll more than once or twice to read the whole thing.
It’s a lot harder for your infographic to go viral if you don’t make it easy to share. Place it on your blog or website with prominently displayed embed code and share buttons for Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites. When people can post a link to your graphic in just a few seconds, it can make the difference between them sharing it or reading it and moving on.
Also, any piece of content needs to exist in a relevant space on the web. If you don’t place your infographic in a place where people who care about the content can notice it, then what’s the point?
Starting with these underlying concepts, it’s a lot easier to build a compelling infographic from the start. Otherwise, your graphic might be ignored and unshared, like so many of the bad graphics sitting on lonely blogs and sites all over the web.
Aubrey Phelps is an account executive at PRMarketing.com.
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