Understand the purpose. Is it to simplify a complex idea, invite agreement or disagreement on a subject, create a community, spread information, or build brand awareness? This will help you focus your message and synthesize ideas. Note down a number of ideas and choose the most appealing one.
Who are you talking to? This will determine your tone of voice, whether you use humor, college jargon, or a professional tone. It will also help you stay on track when doing research. Keep your audience in mind always.
What is your key message? A quick hunt through popular social networking sites will turn up trending topics around your chosen subject that you know will catch public attention. A brainstorming session will throw up unexpected ideas and trains of thought which will help develop visualizations and points of view. Pick the gems and throw out the ideas that don’t seem to take off.
Do your research. Understand the subject. Read, read, read. Gather the data from several sources – pdfs, spreadsheets, presentations, graphs, charts, maps, photos, illustrations, group discussions, pencil scribbles, flow charts, articles and more.
Condense. Edit. Stay focused. Analyze. Filter. Screen. Sift and sort and arrange the facts methodically to reveal patterns in data. Keep words to the minimum without sacrificing important information. Distill reams of data and text into a clear piece of communication that’s easy-to-read and understand.
Highlight the “hero” or “lead story” and build your piece around it. Use colors, fonts and graphics intelligently to highlight the main message and invite the reader in, then lead her through your infographic in a natural flow of data, graphics, pictures and text. Present a balanced view, not a skewed opinion biased towards one set of data – it makes you lose credibility when readers check out facts for themselves.
Provide context and contrast. Use supporting facts as a frame of reference to build your story. For example, compare one set of statistics to another set to draw an interesting conclusion.
Credit your sources, especially when quoting data. It builds credibility.
DESIGN Wireframe, visualization, color, typography, putting it all together, key takeaway – deduction or insight
Create a wireframe. Draw a skeleton, flowchart, blueprint or framework that conveys the information to be presented: the big picture, the main story, the component elements, deductions and conclusions. Group relevant data together and use words and arrows to direct the flow of information in a flowchart. Organize your data, determine the structure and data flow, choose the visual techniques to break up data: key colors, fonts and graphics.
Choose color and fonts wisely. Highlight important points, use color codes to tie key elements together and separate them from secondary elements and background colors. Use fonts to break up information into readable chunks, and lead logically from one point to the next. Use fewer colors and fonts to avoid confusing the reader.
Visualize. Choose visuals and reference icons that speak to the target audience, provide a context and present the facts in a visually appealing way. Pictures telegraph a message much faster than text or graphs alone. Think of unique and engaging visuals to captivate your audience and deliver your message.
Synthesize. Refine your skeleton or wireframe as you go along. Delete elements that distract from the real story. Get to the essence of your communication.
Put it all together. Your final work should hang together as a coherent whole, with a logical flow, presenting text, images, data, charts, fonts and illustrations to support key points highlighted with theme colors and larger fonts, supporting points in more subdued colors and smaller fonts. The headline can be a question, a shocker, a little known fact. Lead off from the “hero” of the story, support it with text and facts, and work down to a conclusion, deduction and/or a call to action.
Experiment and grow. Remember, the way your readers might interpret your infographic could be quite different from yours, depending on their unique and distinctive worldviews. Stay open to course corrections. You can always build on and further refine your infographic based on their feedback in the form of comments, agreement or disagreement with some data or point of view, fresh inputs, topical data, breaking news, and so on.
Finally, your reader should gain more insight from the infographic than from just the data or the visuals alone. Deductions and conclusions are important so that the reader walks away with the single most important key message from your infographic.
Keep it simple. Distilling a great deal of info and visuals into an easily understandable information graphic is tough to do, but well worth it! Your audience will thank you by their shares and interaction.
In this colourful and well-designed infographic, the timeline for Carland: A Century of Motoring in America is presented like a road on a game board, with signboards and blurbs to highlight interesting facts in the advancement of driving and highway systems, and visual icons (more barrels and less trees) to mark the rise in fuel consumption and air pollution over 100 years.
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