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.
Visual.ly 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

About

Visual content marketing specialist with a background in digital communications, digital campaigning (mainly Greenpeace), journalism and cartooning.

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  1. [...] Posted on July 26, 2013 by Virpi — No Comments ↓ 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. [...]

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