“Information can be useful — and even beautiful — but only when it’s presented well.” Information is double edged sword. It can have huge positive benefits like improving a businesses’ customer experience, drive down costs, or help organizations make smarter decisions. However, all these perks are only achieved if information is broken down, categorized and well-presented. With the growing concerns around big data, being able to successfully take large amounts of data and present it in a simple, easy to read manner is becoming a much sought after skill.
Over the past several years, we’ve witnessed infographics become the visualization medium “du jour”. When they are done right, they are extremely powerful tools. They help individual’s pull-out important insights from an otherwise overwhelming volume of data. But this begs the question, how do you go about creating such an amazing infographic? Josh Smith outlines ten steps that will help get you on your way.
1. Collecting the Data
This is where it all begins. Digging up excel sheets, PDFs, links to other resources. Sifting through messy, raw data helps brighten the overall picture. It’s here where people start incorporating additional research from new and different sources. “The full picture of a story is usually found scattered through multiple materials, not in isolated charts alone” says Smith.
2. Read Everything
Yes, I know when sorting through large amounts of information it’s tempting to only read the highlighted facts and skim over the rest. However, you will be paying for this shortcut later. Looking at a single piece of information in isolation can easy skew the larger picture. Smith points out that “Nothing feels worse than working hard on a project, then seeing it picked apart because you didn’t connect the dots.” So don’t let this happen to you. Take a little time and make sure you go through everything… the future you will thank me.
3. Creating the Narrative
Smith puts it best by saying, “What starts as boring data will become a boring infographic unless a great story can be found.” Finding a great narrative is a difficult challenge, but if you’ve spent some time familiarizing yourself with the data you should be able to pick out a compelling story to tell.
4. Identify the Problems
As a good story unfolds, it’s important to resist the urge to use only the facts that make you look good. If you decide to twist the data it quickly “becomes evident that this pathway is futile for everyone,” says Smith. “Data has a way of winning a debate, whether an argument is true or not.” So instead of pushing a certain agenda let the data identify the problem and allow your designer to discover and present an accurate narrative.
5. Creating a Hierarchy
With data there is always one piece of information that you come across that makes your jaw drop. According to Smith, “Once you find it, it becomes a way to organize the project and solidifies the hierarchical structure of the infographic.” Single out that piece of information and make it the focal piece of your infographic. Then you can then placing the supporting elements around this main idea to help tell the story. It’s here that a picture of your final product will begin to emerge.
6. Wireframe It
Once you’ve gone through and selected the most interesting facts from your data, and established a hierarchy, it’s time to create a wireframe. This is where a designer builds a visual representation of the important information and it’s hierarchy to be sent off for review. This isn’t the final product, but it’s a starting point. The goal is for it to be a good jumping off point and spur conversation to see if it’s heading in the right direction.
7. Format Selection
As I’m sure you’re aware, there are tons of ways to represent data. Your best approach might be with traditional pie and bar charts, or something a little more unorthodox like a diagram or a flowchart. Maybe a map, or if you have the money adding a little interactivity may make sense. Whatever the case, this decisions should be guided by the data. If you instead try to make the data fit into a certain format, you run the risk of having a confusing or messy visualization.
8. Determining the Visual Approach
According to Smith there are “two overarching visual approaches to determining the look and feel of an infographic.” There are those who prefer to make the data itself beautiful – think of Nicholas Feltron – and those who prefer to use illustration or metaphor – think of Peter Orntoft. The first group subscribes to the idea of making the data itself visually exciting by the use of color, typography and structure. The second group prefers to disguise the data and deliver it to its audience in a visual narrative “often bearing little resemblance to a chart of graph.”
As the infographic takes shape, the refinements begin. It’s important to ensure that the finish product meshes well with the brand and original intent. Evaluate the design until “the piece is as clear and simple as possible.” Only once everyone is comfortable with the piece do you consider releasing it to the world.
Infographics are a tricky medium. Get it right and you’ll have an entertaining and engaging piece of content that tons will love to visit again and again. Get it wrong and you’ll have spent valuable time and resources making a confusing mess. So take some time, read through these tips and I hope they help you with your future infographic designs.