Infographics can be found everywhere. The basic technique is nothing new – maps, charts, and graphs have long been used to visually capture information in media, for everything from weather forecasts and transit diagrams, to features in newspapers like USA Today.
But information overload and the proliferation of simple design tools make now an especially fertile time for infographics. There’s a widespread need for information nuggets that are insightful, easy to grasp and share, and suited to our fast-moving digital world.
Critics and trend-watchers talk about “infographics fatigue,” arguing that the trend is dead and no longer of value. However, we see infographics as a tool that can be used well or used poorly. They are only as effective as the data, design, and story put into them. This paper is a field guide to the fundamentals of infographics, the different ways they can be used, common mistakes to avoid, and keys to success.
Infographics are only as effective as the data, design, and story put into them.
The terms infographics, information design, and data visualization are loosely defined and generally refer to the same thing: information presented in a graphical form. These terms can be considered to have slightly different shades of meaning:1
On their own, each one of these familiar building blocks could be considered a simple infographic. The complex infographics we routinely see today often use them as components – much like a complex molecule is made up of a number of chemical elements.
Content marketing expert Joe Chernov praises the power of infographics in an era of “too much information and too little time.”3 Chernov recommends that communicators choose from four core types of infographics to help simplify the complex – as he discusses in a brief video.4
There are two more types of infographics we’d like to add to the list.
Infographics can showcase data in a number of ways:2
A recent article6 by marketing education and training organization MarketingProfs looks at why we like infographics. The article contends that effective infographics help us sort useful information from the volumes of unnecessary data we are faced with every day – in as little time as possible! – through “a well-thought-out combination of font sizes, colors and visual elements.” MarketingProfs also highlights our human propensity for visual learning and for wanting to see statistics and numbers as proof of expertise.
When they’re bad, infographics can be a total mess, failing to register with the audience you wish to influence or even backfiring to harm your reputation. But what makes an infographic bad? Here are some major pitfalls to bear in mind.
Beware the Crap Circle!
Certain visual clichés crop up all too often in infographic form, and one of the biggest offenders is the circle-and-arrow cycle that has been branded as the “crap circle.” These diagrams are intended to show how a process flows in a loop, and they may look snappy enough. But they can lazily contrive a cyclical relationship that is either questionable or false. Harvard Business Review speaks out against the crap circle in this oft-cited blog post.7
What makes an infographic great? New research shows that our minds unconsciously receive a surprising amount of visual detail in just an instant. So an infographic’s memorability can enhance its effectiveness. The recent article “The Secrets of a Memorable Infographic”8 looks at this connection, based on the more than 2,000 images that made up the largest scale visualization study to date. This is what the study found about memorability:
Memorability can be a powerful edge, but still an infographic is only as good as the data and strategy behind it. As with any other marketing communication, Signal recommends that it should be based on 9
With these things covered, we find that an infographic serves as a great piece of snackable content: bite-sized and designed for easy consumption.
Creating memorable infographics that are aligned with your strategy may mean the difference between your communication moving customers to action – or getting lost in the fray. Joe Chernov tells how he was so impressed with an infographic on which fish are safe to eat that he carried it in his wallet, consulting it at restaurants. Now that’s an effective infographic!
The ultimate measure of an infographic’s success is retention – how well it teaches new information that the audience retains long-term.
At the end of the day, our best advice is to be thoughtful in the use of infographics. Don’t add a visual when words alone will do. Ask yourself these two simple questions when trying to decide between using an infographic and sticking with words to convey that critical message.
If you can answer yes to both questions, an infographic is a great solution.
We hope you’ve found this paper helpful as you think about the best way to tell your organization’s stories. If you’d like to learn even more about infographics, content marketing, communication planning and more, please contact us!