Tools of the Trade
At the heart of every meaningful infographic is good data. What is good data? Good data is accurate. The purpose of an infographic is to inform and share data. How well this data is displayed affects how likely someone is to read it. How well the data is displayed is determined by which tools are used to display it. It is vital to use the right tools in order for an infographic to be most effective.
There are numerous techniques used for taking abstract numbers and concepts, and making them more relatable to the reader. There are assortments of charts; pie charts, bar charts, scatter plots, ven diagrams, and flowcharts, just to name a few. Illustration and photography can be used to visualize complex actions. You may have seen examples of these techniques after purchasing something at Ikea or running through some flight safety before take-off. We can also use traditional paragraphs to help inform and convey data. Sometimes the best way to show something is to put it in a sentence and do some reading.
Often these techniques are used successfully paired together, a brief paragraph to support an Illustration, or an Illustration to accompany a donut chart. By utilizing these basic tools well, an infographic is bound to be read. But just because you can use something doesn’t mean it is a good idea. It happens much too often, in an attempt to make mediocre data ‘more inviting’ we get out every tool in the tool box and go to work. This often ends up in a very uninviting infographic.
Don’t use the wrong tool for the job
Sometimes perfectly good charts are paired with excessive text, when the chart, if designed properly, should be able to explain the data on its own. We all want our infographics to tell a story. But adding extraneous text, by no means ensures a story will be told. A chart tells a story in a different manner than a book, but that is okay.
Movie analogies are always good
Consider the movie Castaway, starring Tom Hanks. Chuck Noland, played by Hanks, is very inconveniently stranded on a tropical island. While stranded he is totally isolated from other human beings. There is about an hour long portion of this film where there is no dialogue. Eventually the dialogue picks up as Chuck makes friends with an inanimate object, a volleyball named Wilson. Until this point there is virtually no dialogue. But did people get lost or confused at this point? No. The movie keeps going and tells a story without using words. And if you saw this in the theatre you may even recall that people got choked up. A story was told so well that it summoned up human emotion, without words, but with actions.
The intention of this example is to not advocate removing text from infographics. An infographic is like an action. It is showing rather than telling. The point is that an infographic does best when it shows what it means rather than explaining it verbally. After all, that is what the word infographic means, information graphic. It is information visualized. When text is included it needs to have a purpose. This often means that text should play a supporting role to the star of an infographic, the Data.
Show Vs. Tell
A good set of data, well designed has potential to tell a story in a more visceral way than a block of text. Placing a big block of text explaining an elegantly designed chart distracts from the story being told. If a chart needs a large block of text to explain it, the chart has failed. Not to mention that by creating this visual competition, one risks confusing the infographic viewer.
This bring us back to the heart of the infographic, data. Compelling data is the key to a compelling infographic. A statistic that needs to be spiced up with illustrations probably isn’t the best thing to include in an infographic. It is better to have a shorter infographic with excellent data than a long one packed with content, but light on meaning.
Confidence is Key
Trust your data. Use the simplest way of conveying that data and leave it at that. Data conveyed simply is confident and powerful. It has adequate space surrounding it. It doesn’t just invite readers to read it, people look at it and read it without even realizing they are doing so.
There are many tools at our side to help explain this wonderful, information filled world we live in. But if you value the message you are trying to convey, it is worth putting some thought into which tool you use to say it. It is much easier to explain something simply the first time, compared to going back and resolving confusion.