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27 Mar 2012

Inside the Infographic Studio: Part 1: Research and Design

Inside the Infographic Studio: Part I: Research and Design
I think we can all agree that infographics are the trend for content development. But before you decide to jump on the infographic bandwagon, you may want to answer the following two questions prior to commitment

  1. Does the content have a need to be visually represented or interpreted?
  2. Can the data and/or content be more easily understood by my audience by visually interpreting it, or will it just confuse my audience?

The point of this post is not to deter anyone from proceeding down the path of an infographic, but instead to show that through proper preparation, good content can sprout promising traffic. In a two-part blog post, we are first going to address research and design through the role of a client reviewing an infographic and/or someone looking to design one.

Stay On Topic!

Identifying who and where your audience is, provides insight as to what information they are seeking and where they want it delivered. So the importance of finding your topic is crucial to connecting with your audience by delivering them information they want to see! Here are some great methods and questions to ask when searching for a strong topic:

  • Search Q and A sites like Quora and Yahoo! Answers for topics that are trending in niche subject matters.
  • Use social media sites like Digg, Mashable, Google Trends, Trendwatching.com, TweetMeme, hashtags, PSFK, to find inspiration and for inspiration on topics and trending patterns.
  • Repurposing content can help with the shelf life of a previous post. Just be sure that your follow-up is a month to two months after the first initial release and see if it’s still trending with your audience!
  • Brainstorm with your co-workers to flesh out topic directions.
  • Is it a novelty or nostalgic?
  • Is there an upcoming event (e.g. holiday, presidential election) or current trending global news that you can tap into?

The Research Search

Once you have a solid topic that you think your audience will enjoy, it’s time to start researching and building upon your foundation of information. Hint: Sometimes it’s good to do some initial research on your topic to determine if there is enough data on your subject matter, especially if you are juggling between multiple ideas.

Be Broad with Your Research

If you see that your subject can go down an interesting path, take it. See where it will take you. It may supplement your content and even take you to a stronger, more prudent idea.

Be Interesting

Make sure you’re collecting strong key points that will keep people interested. Make sure your data has depth and try to envision the information in simple chart forms to see if it draws interest. Don’t believe me? Look at the graphic below and decided which bar chart looks more interesting and compelling.
How to make interesting infographics

Be Organized

Stay organized with your research. The more organized you are, the easier your creation process will be.

Know the Terrain

Do not be afraid to research what infographics are already out there and find a new angle. Sometimes you might even come across your idea, so as a good practice, always do a Google “image” search with the name of your topic + infographic.

Be Trustworthy

Ensure people trust your sources. Remember the importance of solid research and your credibility: bad sources equal lack of trust or knowledge. Good sources convey a strong understanding of the material. Do not be afraid to trace a source back to its origin, and source that instead. Also be mindful of the level of sources you’re citing. See if you can find a site that hosts a plethora of data for your cause. Here is a list of research sites that are worth bookmarking:

Give Shape To Your Ideas

Now that you have your research together, have reviewed it and embedded it into your brain, it’s time to start designing. Beware though: design is subjective, so be mindful of your audience and design something fresh that will draw their attention.

An important aspect of information graphics is the proper, accurate depiction of data. You always design from research never design then research. Let the information speak to the design. Remember, people can spot a poorly designed infographic a mile away and that’s not linkable content. Here are some keypoints in basic infographic design:

Etch Your Sketch

Sketching generates ideas and it also supplements the final design. Grab a sketch book, scrap paper, or even a dry erase board and make sure this step is included in your process prior to commenting to the computer.

Typography

Do we really want to see default typefaces like Arial and Times New Roman? Branch out and try something different and grab people’s attention with your title. Also remember legibility and readability with typography and allow them to work together for the clarity of your infographic.

Color

Choose your colors wisely! Do not overwhelm your viewer with overstimulating with an ’80s flashback color palette. Excessive use of bright colors can be distracting. A good rule of thumb, is that the more saturated the color, the more moderate the use. Bottom line, choose a palette that complements your topic. (try Kuler for any color palette help)

Hierarchy

Hierarchy in Typography with InfographicsThe order of importance within your infographic is crucial to help draw out key points and for the flow of the infographic. Without a proper hierarchy, content is mashed together to make a sloppy visual mess.

Check to see if your graphic has color, type sizes (and weights), spacing, and scale to draw attention to what’s important. Need an example? Open up a book or look at an article in a magazine and see how they arrange titles, subheaders, article text, and other elements. You can look at an example of proper hierachy with typography to the right as well.

Composition

Allow content to breathe and utilize spacing to promote the readability of your infographic.  Do not overbear people with congested, back-to-back information with no definitive starting point.  The information should co-exist with the design. An infographics white space is breathing room that allows the data time to sink in! Note: Composition is also affected by the width of your infographic It is always good to  find a size that fits the blog you’re posting on, and be mindful of other common blog post widths to ensure shareablity.

Designing Data

Always ask if the design is distracting from the information or if it is easy to grasp. It’s okay to be fun, depending on your topic and information you’re visualizing, but be aware if it comes across as looking excessively “cool” versus practical. Always ask if the design is taking away from the information or do you get it easily. If you can find the happy medium by making it look cool and present the information in an easy, quick manner, then go for it!

Branding

People generally do not want a sales pitch for an infographic. Keep branding light and be attentive towards branding guidelines. You can base a color palette loosely off the branding, but do not go overboard. It can also be as simple as having the logo in the bottom right corner.

Are We There Yet?

Let’s face it, some infographics are too long. When we look at an infographic, how are they taking us from points A to Z? Make sure that the data that lies in-between is just as compelling as A and Z. There is no formula for the length of an infographic, because it depends on your topic and design. Do not push your viewer’s patience, as you want them to stick around for the ending and help share your work.

Recap

With these tips, you now have a good understanding the time investment needed for creating a content-rich and well-designed infographic. New infographics sprout up daily and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find those that stand out among the crowd and spark sharing.   To make sure your infographic has a long shelf-life, research and design appropriately and provide link-worthy content. Stay tuned for part II where we will cover infographic optimization and promotion.