Given the choice between reading a report so long it rivals War and Peace and skimming over an infographic, most people (and not just time-poor executives) would opt for the latter. Infographics allow for large amounts of complex information, data and knowledge to be conveyed in a quick and engaging way. The proliferation of infographic tools has enabled both enthusiastic amateurs and professional designers to create visually engaging infographics (of varying quality) on topics as diverse as the distance to Mars to social media usage.

But in the words of Matthew Yeomans, to be really effective, infographics need to “tell complicated stories … in a condensed and compelling fashion”. But as doing so is often easier said than done, we’ve complied our top three tips for creating infographics that achieve maximum impact.

1. Design should be driven by data

Scott Berinato recently described the “awkward adolescence” of data visualisation and the proliferation of beautiful but meaningless images in the Harvard Business Review. Though a picture may tell a thousand words, in reality infographics are a limited form: they tell the part of the story it is important for the audience to understand, and not necessarily the nuances of the data or an argument. Instead, creators and analysts must be decisive at every stage of the design process: you have to know what you want to say, how you want to interpret the information, and what you want to include (or not). To paraphrase Albert Einstein “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” and probably shouldn’t make an infographic about it!

2. Style is never a substitute for substance

Once you’ve decided the simple and clear message you want to communicate, make sure that you don’t drown it out with overly complex design. For an infographic to be successful, thorough planning is essential. Delayed Gratification’s designer Christian Tate highlights that it is important not to find a “cool” design and “shoehorn information in.” Therefore when choosing which infographic tools you are going to use to design your infographic, opt for ones that will allow you the greatest flexibility and creativity.

3. Make it shareable

One of the key challenges organisations face is how they can disseminate their work – both within their company and to the wider world. Commonly, reports detailing recent breakthroughs are written, but these developments often remain unheard of due to the information being locked in a text-heavy report that takes hours to read. This is where infographics can step in. If your infographics are shareable, using a clear layout and a clean, yet visually engaging style, they make the perfect take-away for meetings and act as useful tools for organisation-wide communication. People might not read a whole report, but they’ll give up two minutes of their time to skim over an infographic.