The 5 Key Ingredients of Great Infographics

by Aleksandra Todorova 1 year ago Filed Under: Storytelling

Everyone wants a great infographic.

Generic as it sounds, it’s overwhelmingly true. Commissioners — the companies that hire designers or design firms to create infographics — want great results, whether it’s social media sharing, coverage by large websites and media or even achieving specific goal conversion rates. Designers want to work on and ultimately create a great piece that they are proud to include in their portfolio. And end users… well, they just like to look at great things that are beautiful, informative, original and shareable, ideally all at once.

So how do you make a great infographic?

In the past, we’ve talked about creating viral infographics and the role that story, data and design play there.

But viral doesn’t always equal “great” in a more conservative sense: a solid, informative, ethical piece that is beautifully designed and flawlessly executed. (Case in point: the Should I Text Him flowchart is simple, shareable and super fun. It is one of the most popular graphics on Visual.ly to date. But is it going to win a Malofiej 20 award next year, or any year? Doubtful.)

Creating an infographic that is successful in the eyes of the client, design firm and audience is often elusive — but not impossible. At Visual.ly, we start out each project trying to do just that. Unfortunately, some projects get highjacked by corporate branding demands or unrealistic expectations (on part of the commissioner or designer… or both!). But others succeed. From our most successful projects (and the experience of going through not-so-successful ones), we’ve extrapolated what we consider to be the key ingredients of producing infographics we can all share with pride.

1. The idea

All successful infographics start out the same way – with a great idea. To come up with a great idea, it helps to think like a journalist. Journalists, unless they are covering breaking news, usually work with cycles. Take the personal finance space: in November and December, everyone writes about holiday spending and saving. In January, it’s credit card debt hangover. February: love and money. March: taxes. And so on. Every year, the stories are similar, if not the same. So everyone looks for new angles or interesting ways to tell those stories. Some succeed, many get lost in the noise.

Same with infographics: chances are, your idea has already been done. Can you tell it in a new, more interesting way? Can you tie it into a recent event or interesting trend? Can you find a useful and informative angle that will really benefit your target audience? If not, you will only be putting your name and company logo on a piece that will become one of many — but not one that stands out.

2. The data

Many data visualization professionals, especially in the academic community, start with a data set and dig for stories in it. That is a great way to find new and interesting stories — provided you’ve got a good data set to work with, of course. But in corporate world, many commissioners are unwilling to take on the risk that their data will tell a story they (or their CMO) will not like.

So projects often start out with an idea, followed by chasing after the data to support it. If the idea is focused and flexible (i.e. we can change things if the data we find points us in a different or more interesting direction), great. If not, however, finding the data to support and visualize it is often a wild goose chase. Those are usually the cases where you must resort to questionable sources or even tweak data points in order to tell the story you are set on telling. This is wrong on many counts. For more on proper research and sourcing practices, please read our guide.

3. Willingness to let things go

Too often, we end up with more data than is needed to make a single infographic. And that’s perfectly fine — as long as the client is OK with excluding some (or a lot!) of it from the piece we’re working on. Trying to say everything with one infographic almost always results in a piece no one wants to read: either because there is just too much information in it and it becomes overwhelming, or because it lacks an actual story.

If you find it impossible to cut data out, get a fresh set of eyes. Here, your designer can be incredibly helpful: ask them what they would leave out if they were confined with certain print dimensions. What is the most interesting story that they see?

4. Honesty and humility

Think your company’s new product or factory is interesting enough to showcase in an infographic? Unless your new product is the cure for cancer or your new factory was built on the Moon… chances are most people won’t care. Blatant self-promotion will also make it very difficult if not impossible to garner interest and pickup — not to mention, respect — from mainstream media and large websites. Even if you do have super interesting, never-before-released data, try to present it the way a respected publisher would: focus on the data and the story, not on the branding.

5. Trust

Finally: trust your team. Your researcher and/ or editor know best how to find and tell a good story. Your data analyst knows best what your data says. Your designer knows best how to design. Trust those people to do the best job they can do, because you can be sure that they are trying. Being too controlling as a client or showing in any way that you do not trust the team will only alienate them – you will lose their trust, but worse, you will lose their creativity and eagerness to produce something that they, too, will showcase with pride.

Credit for cover image (cc, licensed for commercial use): Ashley Coombs

Aleks Todorova is a former financial journalist, now the Editorial Director at Visual.ly. Follow her on Twitter.