An image can be worth a thousand data points, but not all images are effective in communicating the story you want your data to tell. In a world where we are seemingly bombarded with imagery that competes for our attention, it is now more important than ever to use the best design resources to connect and communicate with your audience.
We no longer live in the age where visual presentations are confined solely to slide software like Powerpoint and Keynote. Instead of a bulleted list of facts and figures, data can be presented in compelling visuals called infographics. The composition and design of infographics are in themselves a critical factor in reaching your audience. It can seem daunting to attempt to create an effective infographic, but with the right tools and resources, you can be on your way to producing engaging stories as you help others visualize important data.
Infographics tell a story.
The best infographics are a visually-pleasing and engaging representation of data, instructions, routines, and the like. In 1982, USA TODAY changed the face of newsprint by popularizing color printing and snapshots of information presented in a short, easily-digestible format. Today, infographics can be a fun visualization of a single data point supporting a larger story, or an entire page that uses visuals to share multiple infobits about one topic.
Know the story you want to tell. With infographics, the number one rule is “less text.” But don’t confuse that with the idea that you are not building a narrative for your audience. Whether you are creating an infographic to share online or creating data visuals for a presentation, you’ll want to clearly articulate your main message and leverage the visuals as proof points to your thesis. Use headlines to identify key points and then let your design do the talking.
Think about the information you would like to gather to support your story. If, for example, your main idea is that social media is more important now than it was five years ago, look for statistics on the number of social media users over the years so you can show a trend. You might also want data on how many hours a day individuals spend on social media sites, and information on which demographics use social media the most.
While it’s easy to imagine the information you want to share, make sure you get the cold, hard data in your hands before moving too far down the design path. You can’t depend on hoped-for data being available in the end — a survey may come back that disproves your hypothesis, regulatory or privacy concerns may prevent you from sharing certain nuggets, or you simply can’t source a stat you found on the Internet.
Plan your infographic.
Before launching into building the individual parts (charts, graphs, icons, and images) that will comprise your infographic, start by sketching ideas for your overall composition.
This process can, and often should, be literal. Draw out rough sketches of what you would like your infographic to look like. Many designers prefer to work with pencil and paper, or tools like Adobe Photoshop Sketch on a tablet, to quickly work through several ideas. This process will allow you to negotiate issues such as hierarchy, balance, and the flow of the design, and help you focus on the “big picture” without worrying about the small details. Look at different formats online for inspiration — search “infographics” or browse Behance. Even if you are designing a slide presentation, rather than a classic infographic, you’ll want to get an idea of how to layout your page.
Next, get granular with your sketch and start looking for interesting ways to visualize the data you have. For example, statistics on the number of social media users over the years might best be displayed with a graph or bar chart. Data on how many hours a day individuals spend on social media could be impactful in a pie chart or a series of comparisons — 8 hours a day means 56 hours a week, about 240 hours a month, and 2,920 hours a year, that’s 120+ days of the year spent using social media! A great way to make information more visual is by using icon sets from Adobe Stock. Think about how to connect the images relevant to your topic with the graphs and charts you will use to convey your data.
Design principles for creating an infographic.
Like any design project you undertake, there are certain principles that will help you communicate with impact. Keep the following points in mind as you begin creating your project.
1. Use the right tools. Adobe Creative Cloud provides the best tools in the industry for creating infographics and data visualizations. Adobe Illustrator CC provides all the features and tools to make your job go smoothly. If you are new to Illustrator or just need to learn how to accomplish a specific task, you can search some of the online resources for learning options or review some easy-to-follow tutorials. You can even download fully customizable templates to guide your design.
2. Develop a hierarchy. Following the ideas you sketched, begin your design by laying out the main elements and giving prominence and priority to the most important messages. Be sure your design doesn’t have elements that compete for attention. Instead, determine the focal point and build from there in your design.
The hierarchy of your design will also determine the flow of information. If your infographic includes a linear storyline, make sure your design leads the reader’s eye from one element to the next in a coherent order. Remember to use white space (blank space) to highlight important points, give the reader visual cues, and achieve an overall balance. Aligning text, objects, and margins with an invisible grid will also help organize your layout.
3. Select a color scheme. Because infographics can potentially contain a lot of information, keep your color scheme simple so your work doesn’t become too busy or chaotic. Also choose colors and hues that are consistent with and complement your brand. Take time to look around at interesting, unique, and effective color combinations, and draw inspiration from things that catch your eye.
4. Pick your type. Simplicity is your friend here as well. Limit your use of different type families and pay attention to how they can be consistent with your branding. Most often one or two, will suffice. If employing more than one typeface, be sure they aren’t too similar and have adequate visual contrast. For example, you could pair a serif font (a font with “tails,” like Times New Roman) with a sans serif font (a font without “tails,” such as Arial), but not two serif fonts. Also, limit use of different sizes and styles to what is really necessary. This will help your design feel unified and accessible.
5. Add finishing touches. Finalize your infographic by including sources for your data and adding your logo and other branding information so you get credit for the ideas you are sharing. Depending on the purpose of the project you may also want to add a call to action to give readers the opportunity to connect with you. Export your design to a file format that can be used as intended — whether a graphics file for your presentation or a pdf for online use.
Not sure what format to publish in? For more help creating the data graphics you need, try this template with instructions. It has step-by-step guidance built in, so you can learn new skills while you customize any detail to meet your specific needs.