When a marketing team assembles its annual spending budget, infographics aren’t typically at the top of the list. Companies are much more likely to direct their content resources to text-based articles and videos.
This is despite the fact that infographics provide one of the best ways to display information in a digestible, snackable form. What’s more, infographics can be repackaged for multiple mediums. Infographics can enhance white papers, articles and blog posts -- but then the same images can be uploaded to platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. A large infographic with multiple graphs can even be distributed in smaller pieces, ensuring more mileage out of a single content piece.
But not all infographics succeed at telling a concise, engaging story. In fact, there are a lot of ineffective infographics out there. To better understand how to craft a great infographic, we talked with Miri Kramer, creative director at SmartBrief. She outlines the collaboration that goes into crafting an infographic, explains how they enhance other forms of content marketing, and argues that the best infographics are the ones that embrace simplicity.
Why are infographics sometimes the most effective way to convey information?
Kramer: When you have a lot of difficult, complex information, infographics are a great way to break it down into smaller points so the reader can digest and retain that information quickly. People are more likely to remember visual content compared to what they read in articles or books.
In the era of social media, images are more easily shared than text. If someone wants to share an article to LinkedIn or Facebook, they have to click on the link and leave the site. Infographics, on the other hand, can be uploaded to any social platform and shared much more easily.
You can also get a lot more mileage out of an infographic because it can be broken down into smaller parts, each of which can be shared on social media individually. If you look at the evolution of infographics over the last 10 years, they’ve gone from larger infographics to images that are more bite-sized. This is why you see visual pieces getting shared more often than text-based articles.
There’s this perception that infographics are easy to create -- it’s just a matter of putting graphs on a poster. But there’s actually a lot of work that goes into them. Can you talk about the process?
The most successful infographics are the ones that look simple -- but that simplicity belies the amount of time and effort that goes into them. It takes an entire team to research, conceptualize, write and design an infographic. To give you a sense of how much work goes into a finished product, here’s how we approach each project:
- Gather the data: This is where our researchers collect information and data from both the client and outside sources. Multiple sources create a full story, and credible sources are crucial. Sources that are not verified are weeded out.
- Create a story arc outline: A great narrative sets up an infographic to tell the story with clarity and sets a tone. The designer determines the visual approach from that narrative. There are endless ways to represent information: charts and graphs that highlight numbers; diagrams or flowcharts to explain a process; a timeline history; a comparison; or even a simple picture book story. Our researchers and copywriters find the data that stands out and use it to organize the project and solidify the structure. Then they create the outline.
- Build a sketch: Once the data has been combed, the most interesting facts selected, and a hierarchy determined, a wireframe sketch is created and the designer builds a visual representation for review. This is not the final design but a visual for discussion to help solidify the structure the final piece will take. Before the actual design starts, it’s important that the content is proofed carefully because redesigns take time and money. Even small changes in the concept or language will have an impact.
- Craft the layout: This is when the designing actually begins. The designer creates the visual elements out of the data, crafts all the artwork and tightens up the layout.
- Refine, test and distribute: The infographic must be proofed and tested to ensure the piece is readable and easy to understand. The team will evaluate the design until the piece is as clear and simple as possible.
The infographics boom a few years ago resulted in a lot of ineffective infographics being published. As a designer, where do you see a lot of infographics go wrong?
I’ve seen a couple of really beautiful, elaborate large infographics. They can be quite nice when done correctly. But a pitfall is that they put too much information into an infographic, and it’s impossible to find the signal in the noise.
Also, using boring data will result in a boring infographic. It is difficult to write succinctly, and with a lot of bad infographics you can tell that determining the narrative and presenting the most eye-catching information was a challenge.
How do you talk to your sales team about how to quantify and price an infographic?
This goes back to the question about explaining how much work goes into creating an infographic. I think it’s important not to approach it in a cookie-cutter fashion where it’s assumed that every infographic will look the same and take the same amount of work. You need to price a certain amount of flexibility into it.
How do visual content pieces like infographics enhance a brand's reputation?
If a client asks us to create a piece for them, the creative department starts by researching the client’s corporate brand identity. We gather brand guidelines. We look at the client’s websites and other ways the company represents itself visually. The goal is to build on and support that.
So if the designer is doing their job well, they’re accomplishing a lot more than presenting information in a visually compelling way. They’re tying the company’s brand to great content.
Simon Owens is a freelance contributor for SmartBrief.
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