A lot of our clients have been asking about infographics recently, which is great because information design is an area we love.

Although the term infographic is quite recent, information graphics have been around for all of human history. Prehistoric moon calendars, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Victorian disease mapping – none of this is new.

The web, and in particular social media, have breathed new life into information graphics – they can be a great way of imparting and explaining data in an easily digestible visual form. A tweet can now replace a dry technical report.

Done thoughtfully, an infographic can tell a story. It can show a process, it can show a relationship, it can give meaning to data.

All this supposes that there is a story to be told though. Sometimes all we need is pictogram or icon. A symbol to denote something – a graphic placeholder. Or perhaps we just need a few little supporting graphics to help liven up a text-heavy page.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these, we think they can all be very useful. They can all help a reader to navigate and understand a document, which is what we all want.

So how do we approach infographics? We ask some questions.

  1. What do we want to achieve? Are we being asked to visualize data, engage an audience, or build brand awareness? These don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
  2. Would the information we want to share be more understandable presented visually, or do we need the accuracy of the numerical data? Or maybe both?
  3. What do we want to show? Understand the information. Look for the story. Perhaps the data can be interpreted in different ways? There are lots of ways of visualizing data – what do we want to say?
  4. Who is the audience? What are their expectations? What is their visual / numerical literacy? How will the graphic fit with any branding?
  5. How is the audience going to read the information? How much time will they have? How motivated will they be?

Really all these questions boil down to this – what story do we want to tell, and who do we want to tell it to? Understand that and we’re winning.

(The picture at the top of this page – in case you’re wondering – is Charles Minard’s visualisation of Napoleon’s disastrous Moscow campaign of 1812. A marvel of imaginative information visualisation – the thickness of the line denotes the size of his army, showing how it was decimated over the course of the campaign.)