Data visualization works only if it gets your point across.
It seems like everyone is talking about data visualization and infographics. Some may say infographics are an easy way out of providing detail in a report or memo. I’ve found the opposite to be true. Infographics are an effective way to distill large amounts of data into smaller pieces that are more easily digested. More importantly, they capture the attention of a reader who might easily be distracted while reading a bunch of numbers in a long report. Good infographics can stand alone, but they can also complement a formal report, blog post or memo. Think of an infographic as a way to communicate your value creatively and efficiently.
If you’re new to creating infographics or would like to know how to make your infographics more effective, here are five tips:
1. Know Your Data
Most of us know what it’s like to stare at a blank computer screen trying to figure out how to visualize your data points when you’re on a tight timeline. This tip may seem obvious, but before you draft your infographic, take the time to get to know your data. Do you have one data point or several sets of interlocking data points? What is the nature of your variables? Are you aiming to depict percent change, frequency, or a set of numbers? The type of graphics you create will largely depend on your answers to these questions.
For instance, if you want to depict percent change, you could use a classic bar graph or even a series of pie charts. If you are showing frequency, consider using a triangle graph, with the variable with the highest frequency at the wide base of the triangle and the lowest frequency nearest the point (think of the food pyramid).
2. Tell Your Story
The why of an infographic is just as important as the what. Spend some time thinking about the purpose of your infographic. Are you bragging on yourself or your office to your agency’s higher-ups? If so, you will want to draw special attention to your most impressive metrics. Are you highlighting ways that your agency or office could improve? If this is the case, you’ll want to draw attention to the areas in which you could have done better and consider including projections for “change” and “no change” scenarios. Finally, know your intended audience and the circumstances under which your audience will be viewing your infographic. If your audience is your time-strapped boss who doesn’t have time to read a memo, be sure to include sufficient information on the infographic to tell your story, but not so much that your meaning is lost. If your audience is someone you’ve never met or who may not be familiar with your office’s mission, consider including a brief appendix with your infographic that defines key terms or includes a brief mission statement. Bottom line, you always want your infographic to leave your audience wanting more information.
3. Connect the Dots
Almost everyone has heard of the statistical principles of correlation and causation. Basically, seemingly disparate variables may connect in that one may directly lead to another or they are both affected by the same external impetus. Likewise, if you’ve got several data points, it’s likely that they will intersect or at least be correlated. Your infographic will be much more effective if you highlight the connections between metrics instead of showing each data point independently. For instance, try showing the relationship between money spent and program milestones met. Or you could show how your investment in social media marketing or outreach has reached the maximum number of stakeholders with minimal funds expended. Often, the most effective way to get your message out is through highlighting these cause-and-effect relationships between variables. As I wrote in a previous blog post about dashboards, one of the chief indicators of your program’s priorities is where you are spending your money, and one of the chief indicators of your success is where you are getting the most value for that money.
4. Use Text Boxes Sparingly
We’ve all sat through PowerPoint presentations with way too much text on each slide that leave us wondering, “What was the point of that presentation?” The same danger can occur with infographics. Try to avoid the temptation to fill each empty space with text. Rather, view text boxes as a way to complement your graphics instead of having text boxes tell your story for you. There is a fine line between a well-placed callout box and a block of unreadable text.
5. Keep It Simple
Don’t let your formatting be louder than the story you’re trying to tell. No matter how great your program is, if your audience can’t read it because the background color and text color don’t complement one another, your message will be lost. Keep your color scheme to one or two main colors. You can still use a bright, bold color to highlight your most impressive or important metrics, but be sure to complement your bold colors with more neutral shades of gray or taupe. I’ve found that putting a bold color against a light gray background is less harsh than using a white background.
The same is true for any fonts you use. Try to use no more than two font styles to keep your infographic from looking disorganized and messy. Better yet, use one classic font for your main text or headings and a fun or more interesting font for callouts. That’s not to say that your main font has to be Times New Roman; most infographic tools have a range of sleek, modern and readable fonts that would be suitable for your main text. Don’t forget about your purpose and audience, though. If your audience would be put off by font that isn’t standard fare, be mindful of the font you choose.
At Corner Alliance, we like to use Piktochart for creating infographics. However, there are a number of other platforms out there. Most of them have several templates you can choose from to build your infographic, or you can start from scratch on a blank canvas. And, most offer free trials. There are also lots of data visualization blogs that can give you some ideas. It’s never too early, or too late, to try building an infographic.
What tips do you have for building infographics to communicate your program’s value?