A good infographic can be the perfect way to engage an audience about a complex topic. Infographics convey data in creative and interesting ways. However, a poor infographic may confuse or alienate readers. There are a number of pitfalls that designers must avoid in order to provide their audience with a positive experience.
It’s important to remember that the last seven letters in the word “infographic” spell “graphic.” Therefore, while some text serves a useful purpose in conveying information, the goal of an infographic is to provide this information in exciting and unusual ways. Filling an infographic with large blocks of text is precisely the opposite of this. Readers can always look up an article on the subject of the infographic if they are so inclined. While they are viewing an infographic, they want to see graphics. There should be images, graphs and text in reasonable proportions so that one of these categories does not overpower the others.
It’s easy to write a long, unfocused paragraph containing every single fact that could conceivably relate to the subject at hand. It’s harder – and more effective – to produce a tightly edited piece that includes only the most important and intriguing details. Taking this approach to every aspect of an infographic will result in a balanced, entertaining layout.
A huge part of the usefulness of an infographic is its ability to provide readers with data without overwhelming them. However, there are many ways in which the presentation of data in an infographic can go wrong. Any of these can completely negate the positive aspects of communicating information through an infographic.
First and foremost, there is the danger of including information that is simply inaccurate. There may be a typo in a number that drastically changes its implications. Some data could be out of date and inconsistent with more recent information on the same subject. More subtly, the statistics could be up to date and accurate but still be tremendously misleading if the designer does not understand what can and can’t be reasonably inferred from a particular piece of information. It is important to make sure that data is offered with the proper context so it can be correctly understood by readers. Otherwise, there may be a significant backlash from readers who are knowledgeable about the subject.
Even accurate data, presented in context, can be unhelpful. Information should also be relevant to the underlying narrative of the infographic. If a statistic doesn’t help promote the overall message of the infographic, it serves no purpose and should be removed. Along these lines, arcane details that bore readers are best left out.
A bad layout is among the most dangerous traps for an infographic to avoid. The design of an infographic should be easy for anyone to understand. This often includes a logical path that the eye can follow, moving from one section to another in a sensible order. On the other hand, a poor layout might include bits of information randomly strewn about the infographic, giving the reader no clues regarding where to look first. Keep in mind that people usually read from left to right and from top to bottom. Therefore, readers will tend to start near the top left corner of the infographic and let their eyes wander from there. If there is an intuitive sense of where one should look next, most interested readers will follow the intended path. However, there should be a balance between looking unorganized and seeming rigid. Even though there is an intended path, readers should have the freedom to explore in whatever order they choose without getting lost. This means that each individual section of the infographic should make sense to a reader who has not yet looked anywhere else on the page.
Another problematic issue regarding layout is the possibility of structuring a large infographic from left to right. It is important to consider the limitations of the devices readers are using to view the infographic. Generally, one scrolls downwards to continue reading an article or other piece of writing. Text is kept within certain margins and does not continue indefinitely to the right. It would be very unpleasant to read an article if one had to scroll to the right to read the end of each line. Similarly, readers will tend to prefer the experience if they can scroll downwards to continue viewing an infographic rather than having to scroll to the right.
A good infographic should never bore the reader. One important way that this is accomplished is by maintaining a healthy amount of variety in the types of imagery and text used. For example, one bar graph may be the ideal way to communicate the differences between several numbers. However, five identical bar graphs used to express five different sets of numbers will feel dull and repetitive. For the same reason, using a few different typefaces throughout an infographic can be more engaging than using a single typeface everywhere.
Creativity is another important aspect of keeping the reader engaged. Even an infographic that carefully avoids repetition can be boring if it consists of nothing but generic examples of standard types of images: bar graphs, pie charts and important numbers written in a large font. While all of these ways of conveying information can be useful, they should be balanced with imagery specific to the subject of the infographic. For example, if one were comparing the gas mileage of two cars with a bar graph, the graph might include images of the two cars on roads, with one car far ahead of the other.
When an infographic feels like a series of facts and figures thrown together for no particular reason, readers will lose interest. An infographic should have a clear tone and purpose. This manifests itself in a variety of ways. One central feature of a good infographic is an underlying story. This is the way in which different sections of the infographic, meant to be viewed in a certain order, build on each other towards a conclusion. This provides an emotional resonance that keeps the reader engaged from beginning to end.
This sense of unity among all the different parts of the infographic is as important in style as in content. Therefore, while some variety is useful, it is crucial that some basic stylistic elements remain consistent throughout the infographic. These include a color palette and a general aesthetic. A good infographic speaks with a single voice.
When it comes to creativity, there are no rules. No guideline should ever stand in the way of trying a really good idea. However, as a general rule, the above concepts tend to be a large part of what separates good infographics from mediocre ones. The text and data should be accurate and relevant, the layout should be as easy to follow as possible and there should be a balance between variety and unity. An infographic succeeding at all of these things is one that readers will respond to and will eagerly share with others.
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