Graphics + storytelling = effective PowerPoint presentation

Virpi OinonenCouple of months ago I was approached by someone from a major technology firm with an interesting – and terrifying – question. He asked if I could do a 75 minute presentation at a technology conference in the US. After oohing and aahing for about a month I finally said yes.

I was worried about three things:

  1. 75 minutes is a looong time to keep people interested and engaged
  2. There would be over 200 other presenters in this 10 000 attendee conference – how will I stand out?
  3. I’ve never done public speaking and they told me there would be approximately 500 people attending my session… (a bit scary)

So I decided to do two things that I know from experience to work well together:

  • I built the presentation around a story – I know a story format will be more memorable than a lecture
  • I decided to use cartoons (lots of cartoons..) and turn it into an illustrated talk (so even if my talk would suck, at least the audience has something interesting to look at)

And guess what, the presentation went pretty well!

You can watch the entire talk here.

People came to me after the presentation and said it was the best presentation they had seen so far (and this was day three of the conference). A couple of people who reviewed the talks ranked my talk in the top five – including the head of research of a major technology research firm (for me a big compliment). People approached me after the conference to ask more questions and the video recording has been viewed almost 5000 times (I haven’t dared to watch it myself, though..).

How you can do the same

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a public speaking star to be able to do a memorable presentation that will get people talking about you, and your firm/product/initiative. If I can do it, you can do it.

Two key things for making your presentation stand out:

  • Tell a story. Even if everybody else would be following a lecture format. (We are neurologically hardwired to like, trust and learn from stories).
  • Use cartoons or other consistent and memorable visuals that add another dimension to your talk. I prefer cartoons because I can visualise abstract concepts as well as add a bit of humour.

How to build a story

The process of building a story is relatively simple (but that doesn’t mean it’s easy!)

  1. First, you have to determine the one idea that you want your audience to remember. This main idea will be at the heart of the conflict and the climax. Mine was: you can drive enterprise social from the bottom up if you recruit allies and think strategically.
  1. Find a story that has a conflict that is based on your key idea (if you don’t have a story, ask your colleagues, clients or crowdsource your social networks).

  2. Make sure the story has:

    -A beginning: Set the scene and introduce the Problem
    -A middle: Conflict (the Problem becomes a real issue)
    -An end: Conflict (Problem) gets solved (or alternatively you gain an insight)

  1. Use the story as a structure where you hang your insights, research evidence and anecdotes – it’s narrative glue for all the random bits and pieces of information you have in your head or notebook! For example: I talked about a declining participation rate in our enterprise social network, and then cited evidence from a research firm that this is actually really common. Then I continued my story.

Do not underestimate the time that goes into this phase. I spent quite a long time in an almost catatonic post-it note editing mode (my flatmate thought I was re-enacting a crime scene investigation in the hall). I got a long piece of paper and divided it into six sections (the basic structure of the talk) and then kept adding and removing ideas (anecdotes and evidence) until I was more or less happy with it. After that I started to think about the cartoons.

 Working on my talk for the Microsoft SharePoint conference

Remember: the art of storytelling is about delayed gratification

When you follow the storytelling format you hold people’s attention by NOT telling them everything right away. When you follow a lecture format you do the opposite: you tell them what you’re going to tell them (bullet points!) and then go through those bullet points in detail. It can feel counterintuitive to “withhold information” to increase anticipation when you are used to the lecture format. But believe me, storytelling is a much more effective format for delivering information.

Cartoons – the secret weapon in a presenter’s toolkit

Cartoons are deceptively simple, but pack a punch. The power of the cartoon is that it can explain something that is abstract (it can be difficult to take a photo of the concept return of investment, but it can be drawn). There is also something inherently unthreatening about a cartoon that helps to get the audience on your side. I like to think that they make you a bit more human and approachable in a way that slick graphics can’t. They also go well together with another powerful presentation element: admitting failure (nothing is more powerful than admitting that you failed – and then showing what you did to address the failure). A cartoon can add a lighter, humorous layer to the failure.

I had 40 cartoons in my presentation and very little text. The cartoons also acted as cues so I knew what I was going to say next. Some cartoons were simply variations of the same cartoon so it didn’t actually take that long to create them. I reused quite a few of my old cartoons about the same topic so I didn’t have to actually create too many new cartoons. (I’ve built my cartoon image bank over the last year or so, so I have where to choose from).

Keep the visuals consistent!

You’ve probably seen lots of presentations that have no visual consistency: photos, graphs, cartoons and other elements become a visual hotchpotch that makes your presentation look unprofessional. Try to find at least three good visuals that are consistent rather than try to find 20 poor graphics.

Tips: If you use photos you can make them look consistent by making them black and white (there are lots of free online tools that you can use, including this one). If you use cartoons you can use just one spot colour to add a bit of consistency (and align them more closely with your visual brand).

I created consistency by creating cartoons in the same style and by using one colour (blue) in both copy and the cartoons.

Where to find cartoons and other visuals

This can be tricky. You might find one cartoon or photo that you think is perfect, but try to find 20 good cartoons and photos that illustrate all your points – not so easy. If you want to create your presentation yourself here are couple of ideas to get you started:

  • If you talk about abstract ideas decide on a visual metaphor/theme (choose something concrete) and search for photos or illustrations that fit into this metaphor or theme. For example: building a house, seafaring, exploration, sports.

  • Stock photos can make your presentation look a bit generic and bland (or worse).

  • Want free pictures? You can search copyright free photos on Wikimedia commons and Flickr Creative Commons search and elsewhere that fit your theme (remember to search for concrete terms rather than concepts). This list of public domain photo resources might come in handy. For example a lot of US Government agencies have copyright free images that you are free to use in your presentation. You can get an idea what’s available courtesy of the US Government by using this handy search engine.

  • Hire a cartoonist/illustrator (cartoonists can usually come up with clever concepts as their job is to do the “think as well as the ink”. Look for people with a simple style (the more detailed an illustration the longer it takes to produce) and people who are used to drawing abstract concepts (We here at Business illustrator are obviously happy to help as this is our speciality).

Have you used a story structure and/or cartoons in your presentation? (Share a link!) How did it go?


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Posted in Presentations, Tips

Who said doodling was bad? These illustrated lecture notes went viral

Virpi OinonenLive drawing, or graphic recording, at events is becoming increasingly popular. But it’s nothing new. Most of us here at Business Illustrator are incorrigible meeting doodlers. Aino Sutinen, a Finnish comics artist and Business Illustrator freelancer, attended a lecture for journalists on online research and – naturally – started doodling. She then posted her “infocomic” online (with the lecturer’s permission) and lo and behold it went semi-viral. Imagine the same thing happening to written notes on the same topic…

Better Web Research-for journalists info comic_Business_Illustrator

You can check out Aino’s illustrations and comics on her website (mostly in Finnish).

- Virpi

Posted in Graphic recording, Illustrations, Infographics

8 Tips for being a Graphic Recorder

This is a guest post by my London based Business Illustrator colleague Richy K. Chandler. Richy has a background in comics writing and illustration (if you’ve ever read the Wallace & Gromit newspaper strip you’ve read Richy’s work). Recently Richy has been venturing into the fascinating world of graphic recording (also known as creative scribing). Here’s what Richy has learnt during those intense and exciting hours…

Richy K Chandler Business IllustratorThose not familiar with graphic recording, it’s an enjoyable but sometimes terrifying challenge for an illustrator.  The artist sits in on a meeting, event or series of talks.  Armed with paper and pens (or some other mark making device) they visualise what is being discussed. Often the work is then used as a discussion point at the end of the event.  Sometimes it is taped to walls for viewing.

Here are some tips, on being a graphic recorder for anyone into that kind of thing…

1.  Preparation 

As creative scribing is essentially live drawing and note taking in reaction to what is being said in the present, there’s little you can do in advance.  No prep – woohoo!

Of course, making sure you know what the themes of the event/talk will be, should certainly give you a head start.  A small amount of research if the themes are alien to you may be a good idea too, but you’re not being hired to be an expert in the field. Make sure you’re well rested and feeling fresh before you head into the arena!

Graphic facilitation by Richy K. Chandler from Business Illustrator Ltd

2. Tools of the trade

  • Sharpie Coloured Markers.  You want to do your scrawling with something that is quick and clean to use.  A range of different coloured markers works for me.
  • Uni Posca thick painty Markers.  These are great for filling in paper with nice opaque blocks of colour.
  • Pencil Case (preferably with a Buffy or Wacky Races design).  Keep yourself organised!
  • A2 Paper (thick enough to use markers on).  It’s easier to stay on the same page and work outwards than to keep having to change sheets of paper.  You’ll want to work big so that people clearly once the work is viewed/displayed.
  • Masking Tape.  Sometimes the best place to work at an event is on a wall with the paper taped up.
  • Pencil and eraser.  It’s extremely unlikely you’ll get the chance to pencil anything out before using the markers, but just in case.
  • Note paper. For scrawling quick notes of things you’ll want to draw later.
  • Tippex.  Not something to rely on but you never know.
  • Mobile Phone/iPad/Dictionary. There may be moments while scribing where you desperately need to look up an image as a quick reference.  How many eyes does a duck have?  That sort of thing.

If you’re like me, there may also be spellings you need to check too.  Worth remembering that you may not be able to get phone reception/wifi where you are.  If your dictionary app relies on that, then a mini paper dictionary (remember them?) is just as good and fills you with waves of nostalgia too.
Water, healthy snacks/lunch – to keep the brain going.  Maybe a Red Bull for emergency fuel towards the end of your session!  Though officially I don’t endorse that as it’s not good for you.  Delicious and refreshing though.

Graphic facilitation by Richy K. Chandler, Business Illustrator Ltd

3. Get yourself sorted

Once you kick off, every second counts, so you need to be wasting as little time as possible.
Find yourself the best possible place to listen and draw first.  If no table or desk is handy, taping paper to a wall or window is a decent easel.
Make sure you know where each colour of pen is.  I divide mine into different compartments in my pencil case (hot colours on one side, colds on the other) or rest them in organised piles where you can grab them with no fuss.
If you’re working in paper from an A2 sketch book, tear out a few pages in advance so you can quickly move from one sheet to another.
This may all sound a bit OTT but you could find yourself drawing faster than you’ve ever needed to before so whatever helps!

Graphic facilitation by Richy K. Chandler, Business Illustrator Ltd

4. Warm up

Do a few easy drawings before you begin for real.  The first drawing you do will probably not be your best, so good if this isn’t part of the work you’re going to display.

5.  No need to panic

Even after doing warm up drawings the first drawing you do for realsies could still be something you want to burn, or launch into space or feed to a goat.
There’s no need to be a perfectionist – you don’t to get every detail that the speaker is talking about down on paper. Just key points, and things you find interesting to visualise.  This is creative scribing not dictation, damn it!

No one assumes that the way you creative scribe is as good as you would draw given a proper amount of time.
Worse case scenario – if something a speaker says sounds like it’s pretty vital but you don’t hear it properly or understand it, you can always leave a bit of a space and go and ask them about it in a coffee break, then fill it in later.  Most likely the speaker will not rush through the really important points though, so as long as you’re paying attention you should be fine!

Graphic facilitation by Richy K. Chandler, Business Illustrator Ltd

6. Don’t get technical

The speaker may be describing something which is way beyond your understanding. We can’t be artistic wonders and experts on everything else too!

The good news is you’re there to visualise ideas, not do blueprint drawings of stuff. If someone if discussing the way a new piece of software improves performance on a super-computer.  An image of a happy computer user can tell the story as well as a badly informed image of microchips, enhancing the circuit board thingy via a disk utilisation wotsit. You get my point.

7.  Stay essential

Don’t feel you have to add detail to your drawings straight away.  Get the essentials down first, then add extra colour/details later.  This may mean when the speaker is saying less vital stuff, going over old ground, there’s a coffee break or the projector breaks down (always a godsend for a creative scriber).

8. Stick to 3-4 colours per image

It saves so much time.  I tend to switch colour scheme between image/talk/speaker.  This helps to differentiate between them, and looks good when the pages are displayed altogether.

Graphic recording by Richy K. Chandler, Business Illustrator Ltd

Well there you go.  Hope that’s helpful to some of you.

Now watch as Graphic Recording sweeps the nation…

Richy K. Chandler
Email: Richy(at)


The first version of this post was published on Richy’s personal website.

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Posted in Tips

When Your Web Content Strategy Can Benefit From Comics: 5 Factors

visual storytelling is effective

This blog post was first published as a guest post on the Content Marketing Institute website.

Virpi OinonenLike infographics, comics and comic-like visual content have a lot of viral potential. If you need convincing of this, just check out this presentation by Matthew Inman, the creator of the hugely successful website, The Oatmeal.

By incorporating comic-based visual imagery in your brand storytelling efforts, you tap into an engaging source of website content — and you do it in a way that’s usually quicker and more cost-effective to produce than other video content formats.

Of course, there are some key considerations you should be aware of before you run out and contact a comics artist or an agency. This post will help you decide whether comics might be a good fit for your web content strategy, and will provide some tips to help you avoid the most common pitfalls and use the format as effectively as possible.

1. Will your message benefit from the comic treatment?

How to use a semicolon by the Oatmeal

Excerpt from The Oatmeal comic on how to use a semicolon

Comics can be used for almost any message, but they really come in to their own when used to explain abstract, complex, or “unsexy” ideas or products. Unlike photos or videos, they are not shackled by real-world considerations. Comics artists can explain anything from how a web browser works to how to use semicolons properly. And while the same effect can be achieved using animation, these are more expensive and slower to produce.

Comics may be a good fit for your web content strategy if your organization’s goals include appearing more approachable and, well, a bit more human. Sometimes really slick and expensive looking visuals can accidentally signal that you are too big to deal with the issues of the regular guy. Start-ups often use playful graphics to distinguish themselves from established, yet “stuffy” or slow moving corporate players. You can do the same with comics.

Another area where comics can excel are health-related topics — especially where the health issue in question might be a bit embarrassing, or even frightening. There’s something about hand-drawn imagery that helps to make a taboo, scary, or embarrassing topic more approachable. So if you want people to share your content about, say, incontinence, a comic strip might be the way to go.

2. Will a comic resonate with your audience?


Based on a true story. Comic by the undersigned.

While it is true that some audiences may find comics (or “narrative infographics,” as I sometimes call them) a bit immature, you would be surprised how many senior managers in conservative industries appreciate this art form!

I would encourage content marketers to be open-minded here. Don’t assume you know how your audience will react — experiment on social media and see what happens. You might be surprised at the level of engagement you get!

3. What kind of comics might work for your brand?


Comics are a great way to connect with a well-defined audience segment. Comic by

Comics are not a single genre: As with movies, they communicate through a wide range of styles — from cerebral social commentary to silly adventure stories. Humor tends to increase shareability online, but depending on the message and the audience, you might want to consider a more serious tone.

Online comics aimed at grown-up audiences tend to combine wry observations with simple graphics, and can be targeted to multiple audiences at once. For example, the xkcd comic strip above could appeal to both programmers and science buffs; The Oatmeal is another fine example of comics with a wide appeal.

Another consideration with comics is the length. For content marketing purposes, short(ish) comics that illustrate a concept without overwhelming the rest of your content will likely work best.

Such short comics generally come in two types: the classic comic strip format (2-6 panels) and the vertical, infographic format. The latter can have as many as 30 drawings and still work extremely well online, as you can see from this example from The Oatmeal. Don’t worry if the reader has to scroll: Scrolling is actually a natural storytelling device — the controlled movement reveals the story to your audience members a little bit at a time, at their own pace.

You might also want to put some thought into the file format of your comics. Generally, simple image files (png, jpeg, gif) are the safest bet for using on a web page or as a stand-alone post on social media. Another simple, yet potentially effective, platform for comics is SlideShare, where clicking to the next slide functions as a storytelling device that’s similar to scrolling. If your audience consumes a lot of PowerPoint presentations online, a comic in the SlideShare format might be just the ticket.

A few words of warning:

  • Steer clear of traditional comic book layouts — they don’t usually work well online, because of the overall formatting on your web pages.
  • Another online no-no is the PDF file format. If you want to optimize your stories for online viewing and increase shareability, don’t bury your comic in a downloadable file.
  • You may also want to think twice about producing a comic book/graphic novel as part of your content marketing efforts. They require a lot of work, and are not usually sustainable over the long-term, unless they are made a high priority in your overall content marketing strategy (the exception here is if you choose to curate existing online comics into a book).

4. What style will best represent your business?

Realistic, cartoony, simple, slick… What kind of style would best support the message you are trying to convey? Keep in mind that the more elaborate the style, the longer it usually takes to produce.

Different styles have different connotations, as well. Hand-drawn comics tend to signal that you are more approachable; while slick vector graphics communicate professionalism, but can be perceived as somewhat impersonal. And a “cartoony” style works great for making a complex topic more understandable, but in some contexts (and for some people) they can give the off-putting impression that you are “dumbing-down” your message.

5. Where can you find a comics artist whose work will fit your brand goals?

Of all the considerations, this can be the most difficult. There are generally two types of comics artists: those who write and draw, and those who only draw (meaning that you would need a writer to provide them with the copy to use).

The most commercially popular comic strips have traditionally been created by one skilled artist (e.g., The Oatmeal, Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes). These are people who are good at coming up with clever visual ideas, as well as at creating copy that works well in conjunction.

However, many agencies pair a copywriter with an illustrator and expect them to produce a good comic. They might very well be capable of this, but when working this way, you may end up with copy that doesn’t measure up to a strong visual image, or a brilliant content concept that isn’t well translated visually. A good comics artist knows what does and doesn’t work well visually, and can create a story that will play to all the strengths of the format.

A few resources to get you started:

  • There are websites that list professional comics artists, such as Pro cartoonists in the UK, and the Australian Cartoonists’ Association.
  • You can also reach out to illustration agencies — while these services don’t generally list comics artists specifically, they do list the cartoonists at their disposal.
  • Though cartoonists are usually good at coming up with visual ideas, if you find their storytelling skills to be lacking, it may be a good idea to pair them with a copywriter to get the best results for your brand.
  • We at Business Illustrator of course :)

Virpi Oinonen

Posted in Comics, Visual content marketing

How to create infographics

This is a guest post by Matt Haworth, director and co-founder of Reason Digital, a UK based social enterprise that helps nonprofit organisations get the most out of digital media. The data resource links are aimed at UK based nonprofits, everything else is universally applicable. This is the second part of a two part series. His first post was about what makes a good infographic.

Matt Haworth, Reason DigitalThe steps to creating an infographic are roughly as follows:

1. Find an idea

Finding a good idea is the same as the principles of finding any good content:

  • Look on social media or your immediate contacts for inspiration
  • communicate your take on current news stories
  • devise a how-to guide, such as a guide to promoting your cause or campaigning on your behalf
  • does your cause involve any complex topics which need explaining?

2. Find sources of information

There is a range of public data available to help you compile effective infographics.

NHS statistics and data collections for information on illnesses, helath, lifestyle, hospital care or the health workforce.

Government data is an increasingly useful source of information for charities. Local authorities are increasingly publishing information about their services, so look out for an “Open Data” link on your local authority’s website. Other Government sources of data include the Office of National Statistics. Also, check out information about MPs on sites such as They Work For You and local authorities on Openly Local.

Freedom of Information requests. You can request information from any publicly-funded organisation (subject to some restrictions) according to the Freedom of Information Act. Find out more from theInformation Commissioner’s Office, or make a request online and check out an archive of previous FoI requests at the What Do They Know website. Check out “Voicing Your Right to Know“, NCVO’s guide to how FoI requests can help your campaigning.

Your own research. You will probably have your own collections of data and information you’ve collected about your service users or supporters over the years. Consider how it could be put to use to communicate what you do to funders, opinion formers or influencers.

3. Choose your data

It’s important you back up your claims with facts. When we designed our infographic about how charities can make better use of the Internet, we linked each fact to the original source of the information. It’s good practise, provides good transparency and encourages people to read the original reports if they’re genuinely interested in the topic.

If you’ve thoroughly researched your topic, you will have collected lots of information. Most of it won’t be suitable for an infographic – either the fact will be too specific or will be too complex to understand without supplying lots of additional background information. Choose only the most relevant data to help explain your idea, then group your facts into similar themes to develop a sensible and compelling narrative.

Think one graphic: one fact.

4. Plan your infographic

Sketch out or flowchart your infographic. How will it start? How will it end? What information will you communicate along the way?

It might be useful to start your plan with a “why?” – e.g “Why it will take another century to eradicate malaria at current funding levels” or “Why are under-24s struggling to find work?”

5. Devise a colour scheme

Screenshot -Kuler website

Colour is one of the most important considerations for your infographic – it will be the first thing people see, before they’ve read a single fact. A poorly-chosen colour scheme could cause background colours to clash with foreground elements, or, conversely, make important information indistinct from the background if there’s not enough colour contrast.

Colours can help you group ideas or themes, helping the reader to visually associate items together.

Choose three colours: the lightest should be the background colour, the other two to break up the sections. You can also use shades of the three main colours to keep the palette calming and cohesive rather than jarring and difficult on the eye.

Choose a colour scheme with a suitable contrast ratio – you can find free online tools to check the accessibility of your infographic’s colours, including the Colour Contrast Checker from WebAIM and acolour blindness simulator from Vischeck.

Use complimentary or contrasting colours and be aware of the psychological impact of different colours. Learn more about how to use colours effectively or look at some infographics about using colour, and use tools such as Adobe’s Kuler or Colour Lovers to browse some some complimentary colour schemes.

6. Choose or create your graphics

Screenshot -Reason Digital animation
Graphics used in an animation by Reason Digital

Your infographic will need to use themed graphics or illustrations to make its main points. Consider graphics relevant to the topic, e.g. icons of tapes or CDs or a pie chart shaped like a vinyl LP can be used to to represent music sales. You’ll also need reference graphics to use in keys and indeces, outside of the main data, to help explain the information. Make these attractive, relevant and easy to understand too.

Inkscape: is an image editor which can help you create two-dimensional illustrations. You can put together the bulk of your infographics in this tool, available for download onto multiple platforms. Take a look at how it can be used to visualise data.

For more traditional data visualisations, try charting tools such asHohliAxiis or Google Charts. Google Charts can produce simple charts and graphs which can be built by adding data to the end of a URL. If you’re more technically-savvy, you could even connect your Google Chart to a live data source, such as an XML or text file which exported from your own CRM systems, or from other Google products,such as Google Analytics. is an online tool which will enable you to create robust infographics which are more user-friendly than some other automated tools. It’s currently in private beta, but you can browse examples of what it can create.

7. Choose your fonts

Make sure you use a clear, readable typeface for your text. Don’t use too much dense sections of text which make your infographic difficult to read. Rather, use text sparingly, use large text and use short bursts of bold text to highlight key words, numbers or facts.If you’re looking to create word-based visualisations, Wordle lets you create a word cloud and is great to visualise your text-based data, such as surveys or feedback.

You can find free fonts online in repositories such as Fonts500 orddfont if you don’t have access to your own font library. Smashing Magazine regularly features the best new free fonts, or you could search articles such ourTuts’ “Free Font Websites Eeryone Should Visit” to find more.

Remember that the principles of accessibility apply to infographics too: make sure your typeface is clear, legible and of a sufficient size to be easily read by your target audience.

8. Knowledge

Knowledge is power and imparting that knowledge should be powerful too. Your infographic is likely to be imparting two main types of knowledge:

  1. simply presenting facts and
  2. making assumptions and deductions based on statistics.

Consider your overall message: what overall point are you trying to make? Think about your narrative and how the story will flow from one statistic to the next. Work on a script that connects the facts into a coherent narrative, then edit and re-edit!

9. Check your drafts & refine

As a final step in the planning process, consider the following topics:

  1. Is all the information represented in the infographic? Have you missed anything? Could you leave anything out?
  2. Are the illustrations accurate? Have you checked all the statistics? Have you checked the grammar and spelling?
  3. Can you easily understand the information from a quick glance? Share it with colleagues family and friends who may be unfamiliar with the topic. Can they understand it too?
  4. Does it educate the reader about the topic? They should learn something new from having looked at your infographic, otherwise it’s time and resources wasted.
  5. Is it easy to consume? Do the topics flow? Is there a sensible narrative? Are the colours comfortable to look at? Is the text easy to read?

As with all communications: consider who will be looking at your infographic: demographics will decide your colour scheme, graphics and icons used as well as the nature of the facts and the overall presentation. Once you’ve checked everything, you’re ready to brief your designer.

To recap:

If you’re creating your own infographic, remember you need these three most important elements from everything I’ve said above:

  1. visual: the colour palette, typefaces and iconography
  2. content: your sources, statistics and timeframes
  3. knowledge: facts, deductions, conclusions

For inspiration

Looking for some beautiful or innovative infographics for inspiration? Try

Finally, for an interesting discussion about the dos and don’ts of designing infographics, check out this article on Smashing Magazine and this counter-argument offering a different viewpoint. Make up your own mind and start designing infographics!

Where can I find designers who do infographics?

If you want to commission an infographic for your organisation, the best place to start is with your current suppliers. Ask your current web company if they make infographics or interactive data visualisations. Ask the graphic designers who lay out your reports whether they have experience of designing more creative infographics. If they don’t, ask if they know someone who does – they will likely be keeping an eye on the competition and could point you in the direction of someone who can help.

An increasing number of graphic designers are likely to be familiar with the art of creating infographics, as they’re popping up all over the place at the moment. If you work with companies on a pro-bono basis or have volunteers contributing to your marketing and communications, ask questions or run skills audits to find out whether they have experience or could learn how to create infographics.

If you’ve been inspired to learn more about infographics, consider subscribing to the following blogs to keep yourself up to date and informed about the subject:

Matt Haworth

Follow Matt on Twitter: @acrim

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Posted in Infographics, Tips

Connecting with fans – with comic strips

Virpi OinonenTwo years ago I took part in a curated fan art project called “69 Love Songs, Illustrated”. The aim was to illustrate all 69 songs on the Magnetic Fields’ concept album of the same name. I remember asking the project lead/curator if she had been in touch with the record company or the band’s PR people about it. She said that she had, but that they never came back to her.

If you’ve ever looked after the social media presence of a brand you know how hard it is to find unique and shareable visual content. What a missed opportunity for the people who curate the band’s social media presence!

Bear in mind: this is a band that writes quirky, tongue-in-cheek songs and whose fan base consists of urban hipsters. This project would have provided the band’s social media channels shareable content for over a year (if you post one strip a week). For the band’s fans these strips would have carried a lot of meaning and potentially rekindled their relationship with the band. And if they had shared the strips in their Facebook feeds they would have raised the curiosity of thousands of potential new fans.

It would be interesting to know what the band’s publicist thinks about the project. Here are couple of my favourite strips:

  • Xylophone Track” – dark and moody
  • I’m sorry I love you” – a girls’ comic book theme suits the country vibe of the song
  • Punk Love” – pretty much sums up the repetitiveness and, well, punkiness of the song

My track was ”Meaningless”. I’m a fan of visual metaphors, but I’m not sure where the polar bear came from…

Magnetic Fields Meaningless_by_virpi_Oinonen

Random fact: this is also my first comic strip that I drew entirely on the iPad.

- Virpi

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Posted in Comics, Visual content marketing

What makes a good infographic?

This is a guest post by Matt Haworth, director and co-founder of Reason Digital, a UK-based social enterprise that helps nonprofit organisations get the most out of digital media. This is the first part of a two-part series on infographics. You might also want to read the second part of this post: How to create infographics.

Matt Haworth, Reason DigitalA great infographic can convey a story, new or previously undiscovered information or can present a new angle or fresh perspective on accepted wisdom. It should be compelling, in terms of the information and the visual design. You should be able to understand the key message from looking at it for 5 seconds, but it should also be teaching you things if you look at it for a minute or two.

A great infographic should be clear and shouldn’t confuse. It should tell a meaningful story in an instant and should be easy to skim read. A clean, uncluttered design allows the key elements to stand out and communicates your main point clearly. According to Todd Defren, co-founder of SHIFT Communications, it should communicate “the maximum amount of data in the least amount of space”.

The most viral infographics are often controversial. If you’re a charity addressing a particular social issue, you could use an infographic to visualise data you’ve collected from different sources and cross-referenced to reach a new conclusion or find a new correlation.

Here’s an infographic from Infographics Showcase about why infographics are effective:

Use infographics

See what the experts have to say about what makes a good infographic.

If you want some inspiration or just want to take a look at some great not-for-profit infographics, see some examples at:

Matt Haworth

Follow Matt on Twitter: @acrim



Posted in Infographics, Tips

How to use simple graphics to drive engagement on Facebook – Q&A with Thomas McCarthy from Shelter

Shelter campaign graphicAn example of a  Shelter graphic.

Virpi OinonenShelter is a UK-based charity that works to alleviate the distress caused by homelessness and bad housing. I’ve long admired their clever use of graphics and “mini infographics” (simple, short visual explanations) that get thousands of likes and shares on Facebook.  Rather than use random pieces of visual content they’ve invested in a consistent visual content marketing strategy that supports their campaign goals. Thomas McCarthy, Campaigner for Shelter, kindly agreed to tell us a bit about how they create the visuals and give you some tips on how you, too, can seek to replicate Shelter’s success.

When do you use (mini) infographics in your campaigns?

Thomas McCarthy, ShelterAn infographic will be briefed when we need to make the housing policy seem more accessible or because it simplifies something extremely complicated (for example, our bedroom tax infographic, or the graphics in our policy report A better deal). Or it may just be the most powerful way to get a message across.

Facebook seems to work well for your infographics. What other channels do you use?

We’ll always create our social graphics and infographics with one channel in mind, and Facebook is normally the most effective platform. It’s the one that works best for visual imagery, it’s where people are most likely to share and engage with your content, and it’s where our most active online supporters are.

However we’ll also branch out, creating graphics specifically for Twitter, our website, or our supporter emails. Twitter’s better for shorter sharper messages and smaller graphics. The website is where we host longer, more detailed infographics, often for more policy based audiences, and in supporter emails the graphics will be tailored to a more engaged audience (for example the Homes for London graphic), where they have a better knowledge of our campaigns or the issues.

If the graphic does particularly well on one platform we’ll sometimes spread it across others. And quite regularly we’ll cross link our website or supporter emails to particular graphics on Facebook, asking supporters to share them for us. This is when we get the really big numbers, as we can call on thousands of our supporters to help us spread the word.

Do you use a design company or do you produce the graphics in house?

It varies from campaign to campaign. The majority of our graphics are done in house through our Studio and Design team, however for larger campaigns we sometimes go to other agencies. Most recently we’ve been working with Blue State Digital, and we’ve just launched a campaign featuring Leagas Delaney’s creatives. The creative for this was produced pro bono by Leagas Delaney and is being primarily used for flash ads across the internet.

How did you find your agencies? What criteria did you use for choosing them?

Again – varies from campaign to campaign and team to team. For larger projects the agency will have to go through a tendering process, and there we’ll look at a whole host of criteria.

But for smaller ones it’s about the past quality of their work; recommendations from other organisations or teams within Shelter; or their ability to meet a specific need / comms requirement. For example we recently hired Make Productions for our 9 million renters campaign video (animated infographics -ed.). I was really impressed by their previous work with Stand Up To Cancer, and they had a style I thought would work particularly well for that campaign. It ended up doing well, and through a mixture of seeding and online sharing, it reached almost 60,000 views.

Can you tell us about the design process?

I guess like most charities, the biggest issue we face is there are so many messages to get across with every campaign. It’s so tempting to put everything in, to show people just how dire the situation can be. But when you’re producing an infographic a simple message is one of the biggest factors in achieving success on social media. One of our most successful ever graphics (see example A) was incredibly simple, but got almost 2000 shares. If you can’t get what you need into one graphic, try producing a number of graphics that can sit by each other to tell a story (example B).

Example A:

Shelter graphic on housing


Example B:

Shelter series of graphics
I guess the other challenge is capacity. Infographics are time-consuming – not just producing them, but also briefing them in and getting sign off. Making sure you get the brief right and agreed up front makes a huge difference in getting content signed off first time.

Once we’ve got agreement that an infographic is the right type of content, we’ll assess the channel, audience, comms task, key messages and tone, and draw up a brief for the design team.

Where there’s time they’ll come up with a few ideas on how to present our message, as drafts, and we’ll select the ones that are most appropriate. It’ll get designed up and, fingers crossed, signed off.

In an ideal world we’ll have about a week, maybe a bit more to get the graphic produced. This gives the design team time to dream up different ideas, and get proper sign off. Other times though there’ll just be a day, or even less. It’ll normally involve one member of the Campaign team, a designer, a copywriter, and then someone more senior to approve it all. If it’s being produced externally we’ll normally run it past the Brand team too.

What kinds of written guidelines do you use with your external designers?

The main thing will be the creative brief, and that will have the individual requirements for each campaign. The only other thing which also gets passed on is the Shelter brand guidelines, which has developed over a number of years. This contains all the necessary information on our tone of voice, style, design guidelines, and where necessary, exact design specifications. We have a fair bit of freedom in our branding however so the majority of the most relevant information will be held in the brief.

What tips would you give organisations that are considering using simple infographics/single fact images in their content marketing?

Work out what one message you want to get across with the graphic. Once you’ve got that think about the action you want people to do after seeing it, and specifically who the audience is you’re targeting. They’re the key factors in achieving success.

Also consider why people engage with content on social media. People share things that either strike a chord with them, or that they think will make them look good by having it on their wall or feed. Therefore try and think, will people want to put their name by this? If you wouldn’t, then chances are they won’t either.

Thomas McCarthy is responsible for email supporter journey management, London-based campaigns and digital campaigning at Shelter. You can follow Thomas on Twitter @tmsmccarthy

Thanks, Thomas! Since this blog is about visual communication, here are more examples of Shelter’s graphics and infographics. And here’s a quick summary:

Key learnings:

  • Design your visuals with the channel in mind
  • Do the thinking before writing the brief (what message you want to get across to whom) – if the brief is clear you will save everybody’s time (and your money)
  • One message per graphic
  • If you can’t get what you need into one graphic, try producing a number of graphics that can sit by each other to tell a story.
  • You need at least one week to produce an infographic

- Virpi

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Posted in Infographics, Visual content marketing

Why you should think like a cartoonist – Q&A with communications expert Martin Shovel

Martin ShovelMartin Shovel is a writer, speechwriter, cartoonist and communications expert. He is an occasional contributor to the
 Guardian’s Mind Your Language blog and the Macmillan Dictionary 
blog, and has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Word of Mouth. He runs a
communications consultancy CreativityWorks together with Martha 
Leyton. You can follow Martin on Twitter @MartinShovel

Alongside your work as a speech writing and presentation consultant you run a workshop titled “cartooning for communicators”. Why do you think communicators benefit from “thinking like a cartoonist”?

That’s a good question! I’m currently writing a book on this – so I’ll try and pick out a few good examples – but there are many more… When I’m working on a cartoon I want to grab the viewer’s attention, to surprise them and make them think. And all this usually needs to be done in a single image. It’s very similar to the way I work on a speech in fact. The best speeches and presentations are engaging and propositional – they make the audience sit up and take notice, the way a good cartoon does.

When people flick through a magazine, or a newspaper, they are drawn first to the cartoons, not the words. Cartoons command our attention because they are islands of calm in an ocean of text. Our eyes dart towards them like moths to a lamp. So thinking like a cartoonist helps us to craft messages that attract people – and ‘draw them in’.

One of the ways cartoonists achieve this is through the use of metaphors that get to the heart of the matter. A metaphor helps us gain insight into one situation by showing us how it resembles an entirely different one.  Here, for example, of is one of my cartoons on the recent changes to the National Health Service, which, in the view of many health professionals, have paved the way to its break-up and privatisation. The metaphor is simple and shocking, and the fact that it has been shared many times on Twitter suggests that it has touched a nerve.

NHS cartoon by Martin Shovel

And cartoon thinking teaches us that simplifying messages gives them greater impact – less is more. The NHS cartoon’s simplicity increases its impact – too much fat on a message slows it down and drains the life from it. As both a speechwriter and cartoonist, what fascinates me is the intimate relationship between words and images. Good writers and speakers use visual language – they paint pictures with words. My hope is that we’re on the brink of a new understanding of the relationship between thinking in words and thinking in images.

What kind of people come to your cartooning workshop?

All kinds of people from every sector – what they all have in common is a wish to improve the way they communicate – especially to make it more engaging, persuasive and memorable.  Some are involved in training and teaching, others run organisations and need to engage their staff, or reach out to the public. Most have to stand up in front of people and make presentations of one kind or another – and they’re fed up with PowerPoint!

What are your top tips on how  communications professionals can use cartoons/drawings in their work?

Apart from the obvious – using cartoons to illustrate presentations and so on – cartooning has many other uses for communicators. Here are just three to get you started…

  1. you can try drawing your message, and you’ll discover metaphors and words that will enable you to write – or say – things better.
  2. drawing your message is also a good way of helping you simplify it. As you draw you’ll discover what elements of your message can be easily discarded.
  3. drawing your message is a good way of helping you to avoid being too abstract – a picture is usually a representation of something concrete.

You mentioned that you think time is now ripe for cartoons and comics to become a more mainstream communication tool. Why do you think this is happening now?

There are many reasons, but one of the most important is that audiences are more discriminating and demanding. Whatever the context – whether it be academia, business, marketing, or some form of leisure activity – people expect communication to be an entertaining, as well as an informative and enlightening, experience.

I don’t see many people doing visual explanations. I’ve been blaming the education system that treats drawing, illustration and visual expression in general as something that can never be combined with science or writing or critical thinking, but I might be wrong. Any thoughts on this?

I think the tide is turning. Many years ago there was a wonderful series of ‘…for beginners’ books that used cartoons to explain academic subjects like Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis. The series is out of print now, but I think it succeeded in demonstrating that an apparently ‘frivolous’ medium, like cartoons, could be a great way of explaining complex and challenging ideas. The rise of the graphic novel genre has also played an important part in showing that cartoonists are capable of tackling serious subjects.

Can you give us an example of a good piece of drawn visual communication you’ve come across recently? (or not so recently)

Here’s an old favourite by New Yorker cartoonist, Saul Steinberg. He brilliantly illustrates the multisensory nature of images by showing how it’s possible to represent the sound of different instruments visually.

Visualising music - cartoon by New Yorker cartoonist, Saul Steinberg

- Virpi Oinonen

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Posted in Illustrations, Tips, Visual content marketing

Leadership vs management comic strip

Management vs leadership comic strip

 This comic strip was for a client who wanted to promote a more holistic view of management and leadership within their organisation. Concept, art and copy by the undersigned.

I’ve been following the age-old leaders vs managers debate with keen interest. I think that leadership skills have become increasingly important as more and more non-managerial staff members are given responsibilities that used to be the exclusive domain of managers. But can leadership be learnt? Or are some people just naturally better at big picture thinking and inspiring others? I wonder.

Virpi Oinonen

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Posted in Comics, Internal marketing, Portfolio