The strict definition of an infographic is deceptively simple: “a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data,” but when we hear the word we’re not thinking of a neat little pie chart or line graph. Instead the term has come to represent really long, visually intriguing graphics.
The trouble is that not all infographics are long, and certainly not all of them are visually intriguing. So what takes an image from graphic to infographic, and what elements separate the boring from the brilliant?
This infographic guide will cover the answers to these burning questions. Here’s a table of contents so you can jump around to the sections that you’re most interested in, or read it straight through.
Guide to Infographics: Table of Contents
- What is an infographic? An introduction to the four elements that separate the pie charts from the link bait
- How to Make an Infographic Intriguing: Choosing a Topic
- How to Make an Infographic Interesting: Crafting a Story
- How to Make an Infographic Ingestible: Creating a Design
- How to Make an Infographic Irresistible: Codifying Shareability
- Our Favorite Tool for Infographic Design
What is an Infographic?
Remember that technically an infographic is simply “a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data.” That means all those pie charts from Google Analytics count as infographics, but most people are not about to go sharing those on their Facebook pages.
Charts and graphs that visualize single pieces of data lack the element of storytelling that we associate with infographics, and they also fail the test of online shareability.
When we talk about infographics in terms of what we find online, we’re thinking of things like these (some have been truncated for space reasons):
We tend to think of infographics as really long images that you need to scroll through (the ideal length is thought to be between 1,750 and 5,000 pixels1), but the “What We Learned In Social Media” infographic above is very short.
We also tend to think of them as visualizations of complex data sets — snack sized bits of information that are easier to take in than huge tables of numbers. But once again, only one of the above examples is data-centric.
The infinite variety of images going by the name of infographic has led many marketers to believe that if they’ve cobbled together a jpg that includes a chart or graph, a percentage sign, and some explanatory text, they’ve made an infographic.
However, infographics, despite the apparent simplicity of some of the most popular, are complex pieces of marketing material that require time and deliberation to get right.
Infographics come in all shapes, sizes and subject matter, but when done right they include the following elements:
- Interesting Data or Information. Your data or information doesn’t have to be eearth-shattering but it does have to be reliable and timely, and for maximum online impact you should include a unique perspective on it.
- Visually Appealing Story. What really differentiates infographics from pie charts is their storytelling, not their length.
Easy to Understand Design. Your goal with infographic design should be two-fold: grab their attention after the quickest glance, and then keep it as their eyes travel through your infographic.
- Optimal Shareability. If you’ve done all of the above but made your infographic painfully difficult to distribute or impossible for search engines to find, all your effort is for naught.
We’ll cover each of these four parts in depth below so you can learn how to choose your infographic topic and then design an image that will have the maximum impact.
How to Make an Infographic Intriguing: Choosing Your Topic
The first and most vital step to creating a gripping infographic is choosing the topic. Most people get caught up in the pretty design elements of their infographic — font, graphics, color scheme — but unless your subject matter is interesting, you’re fighting a losing battle.
While things like website visitors, social media demographics and census data may seem like natural fits for an infographic, many of the most successful are just based on an interesting topic that has no associated data, such as the “Are You Happy?” example above.
If you want to ensure that your topic is ripe for going viral online, choose from one of these four categories, which are the most popular according to Visualy:
- Observational humor: pick up on trending memes or long-standing social phenomena to make your infographics visible by illustrating what we already know, or by combining observations in a new way to come up with a humorous result
- Novel Insights: any new way of looking at something, whether by presenting research that uncovers new information, or by combining existing information in a new way
- How to: Any instructional guide, such as this one about applying for a US Visa.
- Timely issue: graphics tied to news events or significant dates, such as graphics made upon the death of an important person, the release of a video game, an upcoming holiday, a public offering of stock from a hot company, or the growth of a popular civil movement.
Whatever topic you ultimately select, make sure that you’re providing value to your ideal audience.
How to Make an Infographic Interesting: Crafting a Story
Once you have your topic, you need to figure out what story you’re going to tell with it, which is what will drive your design decisions and distinguish it from a simple graphic. Infographics got started because straight data is boring and hard to digest; to take advantage of this format you need to move beyond the information to why people should care about it.
Your text and graphics must combine to create a compelling visualization or clever revision of common information, offer an easy to understand version of big data, or provide an innovative solution.
The Keeping Track of Baby Habits and Wedding Planning Timeline examples from the Hubspot roundup cited above use obvious temporal progression to tell their story. Babies grow up, weddings get closer, and both these natural progressions are vitally important to parents and brides, respectively.
Using these clear patterns help give a story to the content and create the interest needed to get people scrolling down.
Regardless of whether you’re trying to distill a year’s worth of data into a 5,000 pixel long image or if you’re just visualizing the plot line for your favorite TV show, without some kind of interesting take on the numbers or information you’re working with your infographic will be just as boring as if you made 5,000 pixels of bullet points.
How to Make an Infographic Ingestible: Creating a Design
Ok, you’ve picked a fascinating topic and figured out how you’re going to contribute a unique idea about it in a visually appealing way. Now you’ve got to design an infographic that communicates both of those things clearly and concisely AND gets people excited about scrolling through thousands of pixels to the end.
There are two common ways to achieve these somewhat daunting goals: choose visuals that are clearly related to your topic (e.g. the How to Use Cinnamon Sticks example has warm, autumnal colors that make you want something with cinnamon in it), or create visual interest by choosing graphics that are totally unrelated to your topic (e.g. the Blogging Food Group infographic).
But whichever route you choose, your graphics, font and colors need to be deliberately chosen. Restrict the number of colors and types of fonts you’re using, and make sure to incorporate plenty of white space so that you don’t overwhelm readers.
To help organize your story and/or data, you should also be arranging graphics and text in a clear hierarchical structure to draw the eye through your story.
This infographic about the most deadly diseases in history does a good job arranging data points by size, so your eyes can easily navigate through the story:
Bold font, large images and strong colors emphasize particular points, while muted tones and small font indicate less vital pieces. In this example you see the different fonts and colors used for the disease names — the most salient points — and the descriptions of the “Honorable Mentions” on the right, which are clearly less significant to the infographic.
While you’re carefully selecting a visual style, don’t neglect the text. It’s easy to get hyperfocused on the images you’re using in your infographic; images are, after all, why you’re making this thing in the first place.
But text is just as important to the success as the graphics you choose. You need judiciously chosen text to convey the actual information and story elements that are binding your infographic together, but you can’t overwhelm your readers with words either.
The Blogging Food Groups infographic is visually intriguing, but once you dig into it there’s not really a whole lot of information in the middle portion. The weekly breakdown of the “Blogging Menu” is a huge portion of the real estate, and it’s not really conveying anything exciting…or anything at all:
A few well-chosen labels of each type of food could have gone a long way to adding value to the piece as a whole, and might have taken this from interesting infographic (blogging food groups is a great new take on a somewhat tired topic) to a really useful one.
How to Make an Infographic Irresistible: Codifying Shareability
You’re presumably aiming for maximum virality for your infographic, but if people can’t share the graphic itself that’s never going to happen. Similarly, you’ve got to have an optimized page that houses the infographic to let the search engines know what it’s about and that’s it’s worth ranking for your chosen keywords.
Making your infographic easy to find is typically a matter of larger site-wide SEO efforts. It needs to be clear to Google how the graphic fits into your overall site, and what its subject matter is.
You can communicate this in a lot of ways, but the most important are: the URL, meta title and meta description of the page where you’re hosting the graphic.
You should also have keywords in mind when creating the infographic, and you should craft supporting content that will accompany the infographic on your site so that the search engines, which are still pretty bad at parsing images, can figure out what your awesome infographic is about.
It’s also worth mentioning that if your entire site is about butterflies and you do an infographic about a celebrity marriage, you’re going to have to work pretty hard to get that page alone to be found in search engine rankings for celebrity marriage-related terms.
For best results, try to stay within the topic range of your existing website(s).
Once people have found your infographic, you then hope they will be sharing it on all their social networks and on their blogs.
To make this as easy as possible you need to do a little bit of work on the front end, but it will pay huge dividends in terms of the long term viability of your infographic:
- Create an embed code and use it on your own blog post. You should also consider sharing it with influential bloggers in your niche or industry so they can easily incorporate it into their own posts. You can also share this embed code on social media when you promote the infographic.
- Make sure you have shareable versions of the infographic to post on all the major social networks. Nothing kills sharing like a blurry or boring screen grab that doesn’t do your infographic justice. Format the size of your snippet so it looks its best on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Instagram, and you can even include these appropriately sized jpgs on the blog post itself. Make sure the full sized image is easily pinnable as well.
- Include your logo and/or company’s social media information within the infographic so that people can find out more about where it came from when it gets shared.
- The majority of your infographic’s traffic is likely to come in its first couple of weeks of life on the internet. After that, consider converting it to a Slideshare and giving it a second life on that site.
Our Favorite Tool for Creating Infographics
If you’re looking for a tool that makes infographic design easier, we recommend Piktochart. We use it for all kinds of graphic creation and have found it to be streamlined and easy to use software for making infographics and other supporting marketing visuals.