Infographics in five ‘fearless’ steps!

how to build an infographicWe live daily in an info-blur world. Communicating the complexity of our ideas is often challenging to do well.

Organisations are looking for ways to cut through that blur. The requests to help distil wheelbarrow loads of information onto a single page is on the increase. The resulting graphics are dense with information yet easy to read and understand. Their sexy title of ‘INFOGRAPHICS’ has become common lingo. Whole books are now dedicated to them.

I am not attempting to do a deep dive here on this subject – others have done it better and with more authority – but a recent project has made me reflect on how I go about developing them. It would be fair to say, my ideas have evolved on a long-ish road… with small-ish number of lightbulbs!

The main challenge is often helping people convert their technical thinking and ideas into a clear picture. The complexity – and my clients’ intimate knowledge of it – can be a big stumbling block.

So, how to cut through?

I now use  five design steps to guide the collaborative thinking I do with my clients to build their infographic:

1. Big picture outcomes: I start by asking: what are the overarching goals that you wish to hit with this infographic? If it did everything you could wish for, what would you have achieved? What would you have/not have?… feel/not feel?… think/not think? How will it be used by you and your organisation?

2. Synthesis and visual conversion of main points: After we have identified the big picture outcomes, I request material that will point me to the important concepts that are relevant to the graphic. I then convert these key points into visuals and summarise all the different elements into one graphic. This ‘one page summary’ chart is a starting point for our discussions at the first meeting. I also develop a visual style reference – where examples of style characteristics (e.g. hand-drawn Vs computer rendered, formal Vs relaxed, colourful Vs monochromatic) are represented in a second graphic.

What style graphic copy

3. Meeting 1: At the meeting I cover several critical things – 1) CONTENT: What must be included? what would you like to be included? 2) METAPHOR: is there any image or metaphor that works well with the message e.g. a road journey, a landscape or a tree form? and 3) STYLE: for each of the characteristics, where do you want this graphic to sit on the spectrum?

I make sure that by the end of this meeting there is some clarity about the image I am producing – I don’t end the meeting before that has been agreed.

4. Draft infographic: With the outcomes of the first meeting, I develop a draft (or drafts) of the graphic and send that with notes about the meaning of the elements that I have included as a ‘back story’ for the graphic. I want to check that the images and their meaning resonate with the client. I seek their ideas – this may mean a second meeting to ensure feedback is understood and possible solutions can be discussed and agreed together. Hopefully, if I’ve done a good job in steps 1), 2) and 3) this stage will be straight-forward.

5. Final graphic: With the refinements incorporated, I send a high resolution image/ set of images to the client.

One final hot tip from me – I often find individual graphic components in PowerPoint can allow the client to easily edit text boxes for specific contexts rather than rendering the entire graphic in a design software that can’t be manipulated by the client at their office.

So, there you go! I hope the above gives you some useful ideas about how you would go about distilling complex sets of information into a clear and engaging visual. While there are drawbacks and challenges lurking in every field – e.g. overuse – I think infographics have an important role to play in communicating our complex messages.

I would love to hear your feedback…

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