As human beings we make lots of choices, some are big; What career path should I follow? Some are small; What flavor of ice cream should I buy? But the most difficult choices tend to be the ones where all the options we have to choose from are all about the same. It is much easier to make a choice, when one of the choices stands out.
When a person reads an infographic, they are being asked to make a series of choices. Will it be worth my time to read this? Do I keep scrolling to see more? Or maybe there are some more involved choices. Should I start recycling? Should I do a better job at managing my finances? Depending on how those choices are visually presented, affects how likely a reader is to respond and take action.
With care, an infographic has the power to lead it’s reader to do something different. It might make the viewer laugh, or learn, the possibilities are endless. Without care, an infographic can quickly become a monotonous sea of sameness, rendering the infographic viewer bored.
Though the information might be relevant, useful, and even exciting, if it isn’t accessible and presented clearly, the information is essentially useless, regardless of its actual quality. It is vital to help the reader along by introducing the principle of scale to an infographic.
Size matters, but it is relative
By utilizing basic principles of design one can ensure that their infographic is accessible and navigable. A vital piece of a successful infographic is effective use of scale. After all, If everything is big nothing is big.
As you can see from this simple visualization of circles nothing is important or prominent, nothing calls for your attention. In the attempt to create a content rich visual experience, many infographics become a wash of sameness by assuming all the information visualized should be the same size because it is all important. In this next example we introduce some scale.
Notice how by simply making a circle large the visualization becomes active. The difference in scale signals to the eye where to look. One could say it looks eye catching. We can add a series of focal points to draw the eye through the entire visualization.
Bigger isn’t always better
Just because something is big doesn’t mean it is the most important. Small elements can also grab a viewer attention. What matters most is that a variety of scale is utilized. We can reverse the visualization of circles above to show this idea.
Now most of the circles are large, while a few are small. Notice how the most prominent circle is also the smallest. By balancing big and small an infographic gains a sense of motion and direction.
Stay true to the facts
This is not to say that if a bar chart doesn’t show variety that one should exaggerate the size of a bar and distort the facts. But by changing the scale of various elements in the infographic as a whole, we create visual hierarchy and introduce the path the eye needs to follow.
For example, maybe a bar chart is 75% larger than a series of supportive pie charts in a particular layout. By doing this the large chart and small charts become more accessible. In doing this we retain the integrity of the information while using scale to activate the page.
Scale in practice
Renowned information designer, Nicholas Feltron, implements the principle of scale masterfully in his 2013 annual report.
In the top left quadrant of the spread he introduces a large chart. This tells the eye where to start. Beneath are a series of large numbers followed by smaller sets of bar charts radiating out.
This spread is filled with a high quantity of data and text. But it works. It’s engaging. If not handled delicately the information could have been lost in a sea of sameness. But the successful implementation of scale makes the page come alive. This allows the data visualizations to grab the attention of the reader. The various charts in this graphic are easy to navigate. Even the smallest items of text demand to be read.
But all data is important
A mistake that many would have made, would be to make everything the same size. After all, isn’t all the data important? But according to the Gestalt Principles of design, when a series of objects is similar they appear as one object. If abused, sameness results in an image without a focal point.
By adding elements that are dissimilar we introduce focal points. A series of well placed focal points will guide a user through an infographic and increase the likelihood that a person will process the information they view.
It is vital when creating an infographic that a viewer can easily navigate the complexities of the information. By utilizing scale in an infographic we can make complex sets of data easier to digest. Most importantly by utilizing scale we increase the likelihood that the viewer will learn something new and take action on what they learn.