This weekend I went to the theater to see the Christopher Nolan directed film, Inception. If you are a fan of the director and his movies, you will know that Mr. Nolan has a penchant for making intricately woven, deeply heady productions, and once again, he delivers. After reading a review online, I stumbled upon a story about a member of the website Deviantart.com who posted an infographic illustrating the intricate storyline of the movie. A lot of people seemed to like it and, for myself, it actually helped me grasp the plot of the film.
As the word implies, an infographic is a graphic visual representation of information, data or knowledge. It can be a simple pie chart or as intricate as a map of the internet. Newspapers like the British Sunday Times and USA Today brought information graphics to the mainstream in the 70s and 80s and have become very useful tools in modern publishing. Reports, RFPs and many other publications can benefit from infographics as long as they are executed with planning and purpose.
If you are dealing with simple numbers or statistical data, a chart will probably suffice. Of course there are hundreds of different types of charts; pie chart, histogram, sparkline or scatterplot to name a few. Charts, in general is a topic of its own. But if your information is more complex, you may need to think a little more conceptually. Consider theInception infographic I mentioned earlier – the designer uses silhouettes to represent the characters of the movie and other iconic graphics to represent sections of the plot line. It did a beautiful job of representing a deeply layered concept.
Here are some tips to help you design your effective infographics.
- Ask yourself the question, “What exactly am I trying to say?” Stay within the scope of work and resist the urge to tell more of the story. Your informational graphic needs to be concise, not convoluted. Identify precisely what the message is and then think of the best way to represent that information.
- Check your data. Double check your data. Your best design effort will be for naught (and rather embarrassing) if your data isn’t reliable or accurate. If applicable, cite your data sources.
- Icons or easily recognizable objects are essential when producing infographics. Think of your graphic as more of a comic and less like the Sistine Chapel. As humans, we are extremely capable of breaking down abstract ideas into easy-to-understand tidbits. Keep the subject matter relatively simple and straightforward.
- If at all possible, use color. Using color makes the job of identifying and differentiating informational elements much easier, not to mention, more visually appealing.
- An infographic can use text, but keep it to a minimum. Determine if the graphic may be interpreted without accompanying text and adjust your information accordingly. Rely on the graphic elements to convey the message. Use text as a headline or setup statement. Remember, this is visual storytelling.
Informational graphics can add a lot to a document and are very useful in conveying information in our fast paced, skim-the-page society. But if not executed correctly, they can actually detract from your message by making the idea harder to grasp. Use the tips above and you’ll be making infographics that people can really use.