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Effective Information Graphics : Designing the Data

From far back to the beginnings of humankind’s recorded history and even before, as we gathered close in our caves, we told stories through the use of pictures. Recording trials and important moments in meaningful and recognizable images drawn upon the walls. Over time our methods have greatly evolved, but we have continued to turn to pictures to help us convey complex ideas in simpler ways. Information graphics became a common way to present statistical data no matter the market or topic being tackled.

Effective Information Graphics

The Whys

There are any number of reasons that people would opt to take their data and present it visually. For one, it is not only a fun and imaginative direction to take your presentation, but it is a fantastic way to take complex and often dry discussions or ideas and convey them in simpler ways that remain appealing and interesting to the user. You never want your audience to lose interest in the information you are presenting and infographics to tend help with that a great deal. They offer a somewhat interactive element to the presentation that it may have otherwise completely lacked. This helps the user connect with the information in a way they would not have necessarily been able to before.

Effective Information Graphics

Another reason that some decide to go the route of the infographic is because it allows them to distill an idea down into a much more digestible package that is much easier for the user to swallow. Ideas that might otherwise seem abstract to the reader can be brought into more familiar and identifiable places through the use of common, everyday imagery. Not just that, but it can help the idea evolve in a way. While you can help them connect with the information, you can also help connect the information to them in ways they had not been able to see before you visually spelled it out for them. This can further allow you to relate the information to other areas that they might not understand is impacted by this idea.

The Hows

So how do you effectively go about taking your information and distilling the ideas into an graphical presentation? Well it really does depend on the approach that you want to take and just what information you are trying to present. Again, the age old truism, a picture speaks a thousand words holds in this case and allows you to make that distillation an easier process. But first, you have to understand exactly what governs and guides the presentation you put together. Below is a simple breakdown of the basics.

The Heart

In order to make your infographic work, you are going to need to have a full grasp on the heart of the matter at hand. This would be the core of the entire presentation. And how can you hope to effectively present the information in an understandable and approachable way if you do not have an understanding the fundamental elements that make your infographic work. The visuals, the data, and the purpose behind it all.

Effective Information Graphics

Naturally, in an infographic, the visuals are going to play a heavy role in communicating with the viewer so you have to understand how this dialog needs to go so that you can steer it. The data is also key to have a firm understanding of so that you can distill the most pertinent ideas and translate them visually to the user. And of course, you have to have a complete understanding of the purpose behind the presentation to really know how to effectively tie everything together.

The Depth and Direction

The other half of the presentational equation concerns the depth of the infographic, or rather the purpose behind it. You need to understand yourself exactly how deep the rabbit hole goes? How many layers are there to your message, and how many connections are there to be drawn throughout the course of the presentation? You need to be aware of how deep the message can delve by the end of the infographic and still remain clear and guide the reader towards the purpose without interference.

Along with the depth of the presentation, you also have to consider the direction or rather just what kind of infographic are you going for? Is it going to be one that is based on or around different locations, or one that is going to be based around different events or timelines? Or perhaps it is going to be strictly a statistical presentation, or rather one that is representative of a particular process? Once you have an understanding of all of these aspects of the infographic, then you will better be able to make the presentation a success.

The Linchpins

Now that we have covered the basics of what brings this presentation together we are going to move over to the linchpins. These are the major elements that will make or break your infographic, so we should pay special attention to ensure once again the maximum effectiveness for our visual presentations. These four areas are vital and without them all working harmoniously the message can get garbled and confused for the user.

The Message

The first linchpin that we are going to discuss is the message. Now the infographic is going to have something to convey and this message needs to distilled into as concise a idea as you can possibly get it down to. Even though an infographic is still expected to contain some necessary bits of writing, the bulk of its communication is usually going to be handled by the other side of the coin, the visuals. So refining this message down lets you know what you want imparted, and how.

Effective Information Graphics

When considering your message, you need to also think about exactly who you are targeting with it. That will play into what you decide is the best way to visually present the message to them. Also keep focused on the way the information flows. This too is a crucial part of your message. Another area of the message to pay close attention to and make sure that you completely understand, are the connections between the different segments and ideas in your message. If you cannot fully grasp these multiple connections in the data, then you are not going to be able to visually make those connections for the user.

The Study

Speaking of how important the message is, the next area of a successful infographic model that we are going to focus on is the studying. That’s right, school is back in session, and you need to be sure that you take the time to fully research the topic. If you do not examine every angle and completely cover the underlying ideas behind the topic, then you risk putting forth so much time and effort to create an infographic that is essentially incorrect.

Effective Information Graphics

Now this cannot necessarily be boiled down into a specific block of time that you set aside. To say that you should spend any finite number of hours researching doesn’t really make sense in this instance. You need to study however long it takes to be sure that you have a solid understanding of the topic at hand. The clearer it is to you, the easier it will be to visualize and convey to the readers. So each project may require different amounts of study time.

The Visuals

Earlier we mentioned the visuals being the other side of the proverbial coin when it comes to what you are communicating. You want to carefully select all of the graphics that you are going to use in your presentation. Not only for how they stand on their own, but also in how they interact with the other visual elements in the infographic. Also, you need to consider the general context these images carry, and the context that you wish to attach to them. Reaching outside this familiar context can be an imaginative way to make the point somewhat tangible to the users.

Effective Information Graphics

Another area of the visuals that you have to keep in mind, are the colors that you decide to use in this presentation. After all, we are designers and it is no secret that colors are communicative too. We cannot forget that as we set out to refine our ideas and present them visually. Otherwise we may inadvertently visually contradict some of the points we hope to make, effectively making wrong ones or somewhat confusing the issue. So the color scheme is as important as the other visual components that are included to make up the infographic.

The Call

Earlier we talked about understanding the purpose behind the information graphic we are creating and that is where this last section comes into play, the call to action. After all, we tend to have a purpose for assembling these facts and presenting them in such a captivating and imaginative way, because we are trying to initiate something. Be it a conversation (either domestic or global) that we believe needs to be had, or some type of change that could improve things socially on some scale. Either way, we have something we are hoping to achieve.

Effective Information Graphics

This means that the entire presentation should be crafted with this call always somewhere on your mind. The infographic needs to stir the user, like was said, to get them rethinking or talking about something and you have to create this sense visually. Which, admittedly, is not always an easy task to pull off. Working with the other areas we have already discussed, is how the call rises to the surface, but only if we steer the project with this idea in mind. We cannot let this be a secondary thought or the call will fall flat in the end, and not be as stirring as we would have hoped.

The Resources

Now some designers choose to build their infographics from scratch, using their graphics program of choice, and others choose to take advantage of the various tools that can provide some various shortcuts. However you decide to approach your infographic creations, below are a few places that you can turn to help you as you get started.

Data Visualization and Infographics Resources is an awesome roundup resources on the subject.

StatPlanet is a great resource for getting information and converting it into graphical presentations.

How to Create Outstanding Modern Infographics is an outstanding tutorial from the folks who know tutorials over at the Envato Network.

Tutorial: Create Cool Infographics from the crew over at Digital Arts Online is another useful tutorial that can help get you started.

World O Meters is a great place for you to get statistical world info updated in real time. This way you can ensure that you are getting accurate, up-to-date data.

The Anatomy Of An Infographic: 5 Steps To Create A Powerful Visual is a fantastic article dissecting infographics from Spyre Studios and designer Sneh from Little Box of Ideas.

That’s all Folks!

That wraps up the discussion on this end for now, but we would love to keep things going in the comment section by having you offer your thoughts and ideas on successfully designing the data and creating effective infographics. Are there any points that you feel were left out, or that should have been considered further? Perhaps not even considered at all? Well then just leave us a comment and we will keep the dialog evolving.

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