Nick Routley—Infographics and data visualization (Editors BC meeting)

Nick Routley is creative director at Visual Capitalist, a company that uses visual storytelling techniques to bring life to topics in business and investing. He spoke at the February Editors BC meeting about what goes into a good infographic.

Infographics are visual articles: they tell a story with graphics and often involve one or more data visualizations. For the many people who are visual learners, text-heavy storytelling doesn’t meet their needs. Infographics offer stories that are engaging, data driven, shareable, and succinct.

Infographics in the hype cycle

Infographics became a marketing trend a few years ago, catalyzed by social media that made sharing them easy. In fact, social media got a bit saturated with infographics—many of them poorly done—and people got tired of them. That decline in interest is a natural part of the hype cycle of any innovation:

A graph shows a line starting near the origin, labelled "technology trigger." It rises quickly, reaches "peak of inflated expectations," then declines just as quickly, into a "trough of disillusionment." There's a slower increase of the "slope of enlightenment" and then finally a shallow but climbing slope labelled "plateau of productivity."
By Jeremykemp at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

…but Routley says infographics are now finding their footing on that plateau of productivity. They are no longer overused marketing gimmicks, and people recognize their storytelling value.

Effective infographics

A good infographic…

  • demystifies complex information: Infographics break information down into digestible chunks and offer new, visual ways of interpreting it.
  • uses quality data: A complete data set is preferable (bonus points if the data set isn’t readily publicly accessible). Incomplete data may lead to credibility gaps in the presentation.
  • tells a story: A strong narrative can provide important context and make even boring data shine.
  • adds value: Readers should come away having learned something.

Creating infographics

Routley describes the creative process for infographics as follows:

  1. Come up with a content idea
  2. Research and compile the data
  3. Frame the narrative
  4. Complete the creative brief
  5. Confer with the designer
  6. Receive the first draft
  7. Revise and edit
  8. Publish the completed piece

Big blocks of text can interrupt the flow of an infographic. So can too many charts. Infographics should be succinct and hit the key points only. Many of the editorial decisions involve picking your battles and determining what to leave out.

Seeing an early draft allows the editorial team to catch any misunderstandings or miscommunications with the designer and generally to see if the project is heading in the right direction.

Infographic structure

Infographics can vary a lot in structure, but most of the good ones will have these elements:

  • a bold header, which sets the scene thematically (and is the part of the infographic that allows for the most creativity),
  • a strong introduction that draws the reader in,
  • relevant data (data sets create more compelling visualizations and stories than a series of one-off statistics),
  • a human element,
  • a strong conclusion that summarizes the key points,
  • a consistent style, and
  • sources.

Routley also advocates creating a compelling featured image that can be easily shared via social media and that serves as a teaser to the bigger infographic. Give readers a taste of the kind of data the infographic shows, and make its design consistent with the larger piece.

Infographics allow a lot of room for creative design, but don’t get carried away: effective infographics always use visuals for a purpose. Keep artwork relevant to the data being shown, and don’t make people work to figure out whether a feature or effect is substantive or just decorative. Choose a limited, muted colour palette, and make sure you’re using the appropriate chart type for the data you’re trying to present.

Infographic trends

Trends in infographics include interactive interfaces, videos, and blended articles. Interactivity can be more engaging and valuable for the audience, but it can be more time consuming and costly to incorporate, although some of the architecture can be reused for different data sets. Video can be a great way to cover a lot of ground in an entertaining way, and because many infographics already have a storyboard-like format, creating videos from infographics is relatively easy. Blended articles combine more traditional long-form content with data, visuals, and interactivity.

2 thoughts on “Nick Routley—Infographics and data visualization (Editors BC meeting)”

  1. Iva, thanks for this post; I’ll be pointing to it as an education tool. (We have so many people asking for an “infographic” when what they want is really just a graphic that I created an Inigo Montoya “I do not think it means what you think it means” mini-poster for our designers.)

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