Five things that make a great infographic

March 18, 2016

As a self-confessed infographic nerd, I love nothing more than getting gleefully stuck in to a lovely data set, stunningly designed and meticulously laid out, but sadly infographics are not all created equal. Below I've considered some of the things I think make for a top-notch infographic.

Solid data

It sounds obvious but I think it’s worth saying: an infographic is only as good as its data.

Since around 2011 the rise of infographics has been phenomenal and they have been prolifically shared on social media (it’s claimed that infographics are shared 3x more than any other visual material.

Our tendency to believe that ‘the numbers don’t lie’, as well as our proven trait of believing visuals more easily than words, has meant that a lot of skewed information was spread very fast and has somewhat discredited the infographic, as explored in this great Guardian article.

So perhaps the decline is a good thing. Infographics will always be a clear, engaging way to present data, but if you don't have a solid data set, then an infographic isn't the right way to share what you want to say.

High engagement

The beautiful thing about infographics is that you (especially if you're the incredibly talented team at Information is Beautiful) can take something that is inherently interesting (the data) but not very appealing and transform it into a fascinating work of art. For me, Information is Beautiful has three levels of appreciation:

  1. The data sets are on subjects I would generally never have thought to research but I'm delighted to find out about when they are presented to me so engagingly

  2. The graphics are clean, contemporary and inventive

  3. There is humour and an authorial voice throughout; these certainly aren’t just random data sets but curated and through-provoking insights

Visual clarity

This is an important one – the very reason we love infographics so much is that they appeal to our ever-shortening attention spans and give us concise, digestible and easily understandable snippets. So you'd better make sure the reader can intuitively understand your infographic without having to refer to too many keys and notes. As Nicholas Feltron, a God in the world of infographics, states, ‘My chief concern is that the finished graphic be highly scannable and easily digested'. The world is a big and messy place, so there is definitely something comforting about quantifying some of this in a meticulously ordered and simplified way.

Journalistic merit

This is a point that doesn't necessarily apply to all infographics but is a personal favourite of mine.

Led by publications such as the Guardian and the New York Times, that are known for their innovative use of infographics, data visualisations work superbly alongside articles to give interactive, in-depth information and reveal the numbers behind the story. There are even websites, such as Dadaviz, dedicated to turning the news into visualisations.

A particularly useful feature is that our brains respond much quicker to visual data so it can be politically energising to highlight inequalities or issues that we've heard about and read about, but only strikes us afresh when we see this info visualised. And how perfect that this is in the ideal format to share on social media. When an infographic goes viral it’s not saying anything new but it's saying it in a way that makes people pay attention.

In this short video, which David MacCandless cites as a snapshot of his process, data is described as a raw material that we’re swamped with, and the designer’s job is to convert that into ‘meaning and knowledge’.

Evolution

After the arguable overkill of infographics, perhaps now the best infographic is one that offers something new. Forward-looking infographics might use animation, or even be created by an algorithm and therefore be updated and relevant in real time. Renowned data visualiser, Nicholas Feltron, released his tenth and final Personal Annual Report using personal data he had gathered exclusively from commercially available apps and devices.

Tellingly, his new venture is an app called Reporter whose purpose is to ‘record and visualize subtle aspects of our lives’. This ties in to a growing trend of making infographics all about us. From Nike+ to the Fitbit, data capture is now big business and we're provided with infographics that give us the cognitive benefits of visualised data applied to our own lives, whether it’s to make us realise how much time we spend sitting each day, or to motivate us to change our eating habits.


Currently exhibiting at Somerset House is Big Bang Data, an exploration of the rapidly increasing ‘datafication’ of our lives and how artists, designers and innovators are helping us understand this new world.

If you're looking to make your own infographic, luckily David MacCandless has created a meta-infographic to help us out. Do you think he's summed up what makes a good infographic?

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