Infographics are the new black (what, you thought it was orange?). Everyone loves to read and share them, and companies and marketers are eager to fill that demand.
An infographic is just that: a visual graphic that presents information in an easily scanned, digested, and understood format. On a cognitive level, they allow people to quickly see patterns and trends in the data being presented (rather than having to read and comprehend it). According to Graphs.net, the search traffic for infographics went up by a mind-boggling 800% between 2010 and 2012, and they’ve only increased their popularity since then. If you’re not including and using them on your website or business, you’re missing out. Period.
Content is king, but visual is the emperor’s new clothes. We want visual content more than anything else these days...graphics, images, and videos. Consider:
- Our brains process visual information 60,000 times faster than text (source: 3M Corporation)
- Sites and profiles that use infographics see an average 12% growth in traffic over those who do not (source: AnsonAlex)
- 90% of the information transmitted to our brains is visual (source: Zabisco)
You. Need. Infographics. They appeal to us on a conscious and subconscious level, they’re easily shareable (and people tweet, like, and comment much more on an image or graphic), and they provide simple branding opportunities (effortlessly include your logo at the bottom).
But many people mistakenly believe that infographic creation requires special training, hours or work, and expensive programs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, you could outsource your needs to an expensive graphic designer - and you’d get a beautiful, stunning graphic in return - but you don’t have to do that. You have lots of options.
In fact, with a few design basics and a free online service, you could be cranking out infographics in no time. Sure, it may take a bit of playing with your chosen platform, but you can quickly pick up what you need to know in a single session. After that, it’s just a matter of organizing the data to be represented, making a few design choices, creating the infographic, and sharing online. You can - and should - include infographics as a regular part of your content strategy by this time next week (or sooner depending on your level of tech savviness).
There is no huge time commitment, there are no special or hard to master skills involved, and you can do it all for free. And free is good. A killer infographic can increase traffic, spread brand awareness, and boost your social shares.
You don’t need a degree in graphic design. You just need to read on.
1. The Outline Phase
Even though infographics are the “it” format at the moment, it doesn’t mean you can just present any old thing. Like an article, blog post, or presentation, you still need to find something meaningful and relevant to share. Ask yourself what your readers will get out of it. Will they care? Does it help, explain, clarify, challenge, or entertain in some way? If so, you’ve probably got something to work with.
On paper, jot down the necessary information. What do they need to know? Sketch it out in a flowchart structure (infographics, after all, move downwards from section to section, with a clear relationship between them). Be sure for yourself on how it all connects. Consider ways you could visually present the data (pie chart, line graph, and so on), as well as other appropriate graphics or images you could include. By the end, you should have a decent skeleton ready to go.
2. The Basic Components
An infographic is made up of three parts: the visuals, the text, and the sources. As with a presentation slide, the idea here is to lean primarily on the visual elements and limit the text to only what is required. Nothing more, nothing less. In fact, the fewer words you can include, the better. Ideally, you’ll be able to represent your data set and stats as either bar charts, line graphs, pie charts, or to-scale comparisons. You want your readers to quickly identify the pattern or trend (going up, going down, increasing, decreasing, stagnant, or whatever).
When appropriate, towards the bottom, you should explicitly state any conclusions, suggested actions, or solutions. What does it all mean for your readers?
Finally, an infographic typically includes your sources at the very bottom, so that all information is can be verified.
3. Some Design Elements
You don’t need to be an actual designer to do this well. You don’t have to have a flair for combining shapes and colours. You just need to keep a few things in mind:
Colour Scheme - what colours will you include? The colours used by a business are frequently not left to chance...they spend time and money researching the psychological effect of one over another. Colours have meaning and impact on us. You might select colours that match your brand, or you might go with colours that reflect the material. Either way, choose wisely, and work with - not against - colour theory. Some colours work better with others. And in terms of social sharing, you may want to review a recent Georgia Tech study. They found that red, purple, and pink promote sharing (or “diffusion”, as they call it), while blue, green, and yellow suppress it. Does that mean you have to create your infographic against a bright red background? Absolutely not (and that would likely be difficult to read, anyway). But you might want to explore ways to include red, purple, and pink to highlight and emphasize key points.
Framing - surrounding your important stats with a box or circle. You literally frame it (also called encapsulation) and draw our eyes to it. This can also be done with a funnel structure that narrows and pulls us to the stat or point.
Directional Cues - you could also opt for directional cues such as arrows, faces or eyes looking in one direction, fingers or hands pointing, or any other visual hint as to where we should be looking.
Balance - your infographic shouldn’t be too busy. Be selective. You don’t need to fill every inch of space. In fact, the balance of blank and filled space can be used to highlight certain parts of the graphic. A key point, stat, or conclusion should be isolated in some small way to draw attention to it. Remember, less is more.
Font - whatever font you choose for your text, remember the most important characteristic: it has to be legible. Too many people go with something that looks cool, or unique, or zany, but no one can actually read it. Function over form here, folks.
Graphics - do the graphics add to the infographic? Are they there for a reason? If not, get rid of them.
4. The Free Tools
You’re spoiled for choice. All of these have user friendly interfaces, a selection of ready-to-go infographic templates, image and graphic libraries, and free account options (as well as more feature-rich paid options).
Canva is the most popular design tool online these days. Under “Create a Design”, scroll down to the Blogging and eBooks category, and click on Infographic. Choose from one of their many customizable templates, or create one from scratch. Easy peasy.
Piktochart is another good option. They have over 200 customizable infographic templates in their library, and you can access many of them with a free account.
easel.ly boasts 900,000 users and over 2 million infographics created. They provide you with dozens of templates, tons of images and shapes, and a simple interface to put it all together.
infogr.am seems a good choice for statistic-heavy infographics (they boast over 30 different charting options), and they’ve helped create over 3.5 million of them. Log in, select a template, and get to work.
These aren’t the only ones available, but they do represent the most popular and easy to use (according to most sources).
Infographics are meant to simplify and streamline data, so don’t stress and obsess over them (kind of defeats the purpose, no?). Try a few of the free tools listed here and find one that appeals to you. Find the right balance of ease of use, features, templates, and other available graphics. Then, it shouldn’t take much more than an hour to become a “good enough” master at using it.
Play around. Create a few nonsense infographics. Experiment with colours to determine which ones work best, which ones contrast (in both good and bad ways), and which ones to avoid at all costs. Try out the font options. Play around with framing and directional cues to get a sense of how that works. Spend 60 minutes with it, as you’ll be amazed how prepared you then feel to put it all into action.
Have you jumped aboard the infographic express yet? What’s your experience been like so far? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.