This is the final installment of our three-part series on creating viral infographics. Be sure to read the first two, on finding the right story and data.
Design is one of the most subjective aspects of a successful viral infographic. It may even seem to be inconsequential, as infographics of simple and even lacking design can achieve virality. But aesthetics is hugely important in a winning infographic because it is the most immediate and direct point of connection to the audience.
It’s all about the audience
Just as the voice and style you use in a written article needs to match the audience — you wouldn’t use haikus for tech product reviews, would you? — the design style will need to match your audience for maximum impact. Do you have some data around unemployment or job trends? Think of your audience… WSJ readers, news carnivores: do they want something ultra clean and modern with appreciation of artistic ideals? Probably not. What about large icons or some colorful characters and cartoons? No thanks. But present it to them clearly, maybe draw in some influences from an actual newspaper, and you have something that speaks to them.
Draw inspiration from the content
While reflecting your audience, your design should also imbue its content. Diagramming how poor people get scammed? Try using some pavement textures… maybe some cardboard, too. If your topic is about schools, make it look and feel like a student’s workspace. Using a tactile design is something I do often. One reason is because I much prefer Photoshop and its realism over Illustrator.
Don’t get carried away, though. While I often drop in what is referred to as marginalia to add some extra “stuff” to a design, it doesn’t always work, and if you are using it to beef up a weak concept, it will show. Marginalia is great for adding context to a design without taking up space with a verbal description. While it may not be worth 1,000 words, the right image in the right place can help the viewer get a better feel of the subject at hand.
Curb your design enthusiasm
Often, and especially with more advanced data visualizations, your design just needs to get out of the way. Cleaner and clearer design will work best here. Sometimes I just can’t help myself and will throw in a paper texture or something to provide some mood. As long as the data is in the foreground, you should be OK.
Avoid visual quagmires
While infographics can convey a lot of information, it’s important to let the design breathe. Sometimes the data can be dense conceptually and when the graphic is also dense visually, it’s a bit overwhelming. If the charts are easy to read, you can pack them to the rafters, as the viewer can scan. But when there is little white space and everything is filled with text, facts, charts or images (not my design) then it becomes a visual quagmire. Quagmires don’t spread virally.
I won’t go into the fine-grained details of infographic design, as that is usually the territory of each individual designer and their style, but the outline above should set you out in a clear direction for maximum impact and, hopefully, virality.
Jess Bachman is a Creative Director at Visual.ly.