You’ve seen the beautiful, informative explainer graphics that have popped up all over the Web in the last few years. These “infographics” visually explain topics that may be too cumbersome or complicated to spell out in long-form text. They illustrate topics using charts, graphs, images and short bits of text to clearly communicate a message or explain a subject.
According to inbound marketing company Hubspot, Studies have shown that human brains process visual information faster than words. Visual information makes a more significant and lasting impact, as well. Given the fast-paced, ever-changing nature of our lives, demands for our attention are increasing.
If you’re trying to communicate a message, you need to do it fast. Infographics are an effective way to do this. Humans began presenting information graphically as soon as they could scratch on cave walls. But fast forward to the ’80s and ’90s when innovative newspapers such as USA Today and Britain’s Sunday Times began to perfect the process of presenting data in graphically appealing and easily digestible ways using infographics.
As the Web has become our most-used communication method, the use of infographics has exploded. Check your Pinterest and Instagram feeds; you’ll see dozens of infographics on a wide variety of topics. Even if you’re not a graphic designer, you can quickly and easily create attractive marketing-driven infographics for your website and social media feeds. They are the modern way to impart information, and we’ll show you how even non-designers can create highly successful infographics.
In general, the infographic creation process looks like this:
The most important thing to remember is that each stage builds on the other, so you need clear communication and sign-off at each stage to move things forward and create a piece of content that works for everyone. (Basically, by the time you see your first infographic design, you aren’t looking at an entire “first draft.” The idea and copy should have been locked and edited several times by the time you get to that stage.) There should be no surprises on the back end.
Start with a Strategy
The process to make a successful infographic starts way before you ever come up with an idea.
People often get excited at the idea of an infographic and want to head into design immediately, but this is the number one thing that sabotages an infographic. Whenever we kick off a fresh project with a partner, we start with a meeting to confirm what the project’s goal is.
At this stage, you’re setting the groundwork for the project. Your job is to ask the right questions to identify exactly what you want to achieve.
1) Who Are You Trying to Reach?
If you want your infographic to succeed, knowing who you want to reach is paramount. You should be able to identify who your audience is or who your audience segments are, as well as their pain points and desires. This will help you create an infographic they actually care about.
If you haven’t already, create audience personas that include demographic and psychographic information to guide these discussions.
2) What Is Your Goal?
What are you trying to achieve with this piece of content? How does it fit into your short- and long-term marketing goals? Wanting to create an infographic because they’re “cool” is not a reason. It can actually be a huge waste of time if it’s not tied to your larger strategy.
3) Is an Infographic What You Need to Achieve That Goal?
This is a big one. Way too often we see people get excited about a certain format or trend and go all in. Sometimes they want to create something because a competitor did. Other times they just want to appease a higher-up who wants what they want because they want it. Over and over, we remind people that format should be determined by the story you’re telling. An infographic may absolutely be the right format, but a GIF series, interactive infographic, motion graphic, or video might be the better solution.
4) How Are You Going to Determine Success?
Your KPIs will tell you whether or not your infographic worked; they should not be an afterthought. If you need tracking links or analytics set up, these are all things that should be locked down before you go into production.
Other Things to Consider:
- Who needs to weigh in on the content created? Too many cooks in the kitchen or a major edit right before publication is a pain in the ass.
- Who will own the project? Decide who will consolidate edits from stakeholders, who will coordinate with design and PR, who will make sure that what’s created aligns with the project goal, and who will problem-solve along the way.
- Where is this going to live? In our early years, we were always shocked to deliver a slick infographic, then find out our partner doesn’t even have a blog to post it on. Knowing where this is going to be displayed will also influence design. Don’t surprise anyone down the line.
Once your team understands the project goals, only then can you move into the fun part: coming up with awesome ideas.
Step 1: What do you want to illustrate?
At this point, you’ve no doubt seen all sorts of infographics. There are silly ones, promotional ones, educational ones, or, in rare cases, an infographic you might want to hang up as a poster for its beauty. Or maybe because it contains information you’d like to consult on a regular basis.
For the one I made, I wanted it to be educational–some people will have no idea about in-sourcing before seeing the infographic, so it’s important to introduce the idea. But mostly it gave tips in a digestible format. That way, if someone wanted to start in-sourcing content, they would have the most pertinent tips right there in one place, rather than having to comb through a whole ebook to find everything.
First, let’s think about the kinds of knowledge you can can you communicate with infographics by looking at some examples.
a) You can illustrate processes.
Let’s say your small startup company brews craft beer. You might want to create an infographic that details the process of making beer. You make a beautiful beer-making infographic, put it on your website, and then you send it out via all your social media channels. With any luck, the graphic goes viral and suddenly your microbrewery is flooded with customers.
b) You can use infographics to illustrate data and data trends. Maybe you own a coffee shop. You want to show which is the most popular brew among regular, latte, espresso and cappuccino. And you want to show numbers that indicate how many cups of coffee the average person enjoys per day. Put this data in an infographic, send it out, get some buzz, and voilá, the line of customers wanting a cup of your fine java is out the door!
An infographic showing the number of people who watch food shows. (From Venngage)
c) Infographics can also show geographical information (i.e. which part of the country has the most Pomeranians), a timeline (the 1980s at glance), and much more.
Find the Right Idea
Too many brands try to make infographics for themselves—not for the people they’re trying to reach. Great ideas are only great if they work for the core audience. It’s easy to get hyped up on a fun or interesting idea, but it will ultimately fail if you forget who you’re creating it for.
Bring the right stakeholders together at this stage, including your copywriter, art director or designer, and PR. PR is particularly important, as they know what publishers and influencers are interested in. They can also help facilitate co-partnerships, which is a strategy that we love to use. (Read more about how to approach publications for this type of content.)
Brainstorms can be tricky when you have a lot of stakeholders (or egos) in the room. Remind your team what the ultimate goal is to keep discussions on track. Something that helped us tremendously was learning about the 4 different types of creative brains. (Understanding what type of thinker you are and how to better communicate with others will save your sanity.) You can also try these 16 methods for coming up with great infographic ideas.
2. Vet Your Ideas
A freestyle brainstorm sounds fun, but you’re here to achieve a goal. Vet every idea to make sure it really will capture people’s interest.
- Does this solve a problem, expand their knowledge, or have a practical application?
- Is it relevant to them?
- Would they want to share it?
- Has this been done already? Can you do it better or give it your own spin?
3. Write a Creative Brief
This document keeps everyone on the same page and outlines everything anyone working on the project needs to know. If you don’t have that information available, you might end up with an infographic optimized for web publication that was supposed to be an enormous visual for a tradeshow presentation (not that that’s ever happened to us—multiple times).
Also, we find that there can be some confusion when talking about infographic creation. Before you head into production, make sure your team is all on the same page with the same language. A few terms to know:
- Data visualization: Strict visualizations of data, which include charts and graphs.
- Infographic: A graphic combining copy and data visualization.
- Information design: A graphic that visually displays information but not necessarily data (e.g., a flow chart).
- Interactive infographic: Web-based content that users can interact with and/or manipulate.
- Animated infographic: An infographic that features animation (a. k. a. movement). It’s sometimes called a GIFographic.
Step 2: How to create an infographic?
Reverse-engineer an outline.
If you’re anything like me, when you start writing a piece, you might put together an outline of all the main points to cover, and sub-points to support them.
Now, let’s reverse that process. Take the text of your long-form piece, and start breaking it up into sections, sub-sections, supporting content, and on and on. If it helps, you can even give them titles, labels, and summaries: this is the central idea, this is a supporting anecdote, this is advice, etcetera. We can visualize this. Divide a section of content into the main idea and supporting points, with titles/labels for each.
Your end goal is to have the whole piece broken up into sections, each with an easily identifiable purpose.
So once you’re on board with the usefulness of this communication medium, your next question may be, “How do I get some infographics for my website and social media?” You may not have the creative chops to build these visual beauties, or you may not know how to use sophisticated graphics software such as Adobe Illustrator. Or if even you do, who has the time? You could hire a graphic designer, but that can be pricey, and again, time-consuming.
The solution is easy. Build your own! You’d be surprised how easy it is. You needn’t panic if you’re not an illustrator or designer, because even non-designers can create beautiful infographics that communicate information simply and attractively.
Just build your infographic using any of a number of web-based applications that offer a step-by-step process to creating fabulous and attention-getting infographics.
All of these infographic builders have free and paid options, so you can try out the free templates, see if you like the software and then graduate to the paid plans as your needs become more sophisticated. The paid plans often offer more template options, a larger graphic library or extra upload storage. Some of the infographic-building services automatically add a watermark featuring their brand that you can remove only if you subscribe to one of their paid plans. Most of these services offer monthly and annual payment plans.
Here’s a quick snapshot of some web-based infographic-building services:
- Easel.ly. This tool offers dozens of templates to get you started, as well as access to a library of symbols such as shapes and arrows that you can incorporate into your graphic. Easel.ly offers terrific sharing tools, as well. The “pro” plan is $3/month and offers many more images, fonts and templates, the ability to upload your own fonts and files, and help from an Easel.ly designer.
- Venngage. This program offers a wide variety of templates for differing styles of infographics, including statistical, informational process, timeline, geographic, charts and surveys and many more. The paid plan is $19/month or $190/year and gives you access to “premium” templates and graphics.
- Piktochart. Even with the free version of Piktochart, you’ll have access to more than 4,000 beautifully designed icons and images, and you’ll have access to all the editor functions. You can easily import data from a Microsoft Excel file, a Google spreadsheet or from your Survey Monkey account. Plans priced at $15 or $29 per month offer more uploads and other features.
- Canva. This one offers several layout templates, and lots of beautiful art elements. Canva also offers you the ability to design fliers, cards, presentations, posters, Pinterest posts, business cards and more. The “Canva for Work” option is $12.95/month or $119.40/year and allows teams to share company media.
- PowerPoint. You can even create an infographic in Microsoft PowerPoint. Inbound marketing company Hubspot offers free templates if you enter some information on their website (and subsequently, of course, get added to their e-mail marketing lists) .
Step 3: What to include
It’s not easy to let go of words you spent hours sweating over, but make sacrifices in the name of infographic goodness. Here are tips for hacking away bulky content, so you’re left with the best:
Lose stuff that runs counter to your goal.
This one should be done pretty quickly. You’ve already decided the infographic’s purpose; some of the things you wrote aren’t helping with that. Kill them. Kill them with fire.
So, with my piece, for instance, in the original ebook, I spent a lot of time going into why you’d want to in-source content. That wasn’t my goal for this infographic, though–giving advice is–so that section is an easy cut!
Break remaining text into 2-line chunks.
OK, those off-topic cuts helped, but even with the pertinent bits, there’s still tons of stuff remaining. No problem! Here’s a rule to narrow things down:
- Break up individual paragraphs into main points–no more than 2 or 3 chunks per paragraph.
- Next, get those chunks down to 2 lines of text each–or less. No exceptions! Cut detail, combine ideas, do what it takes. Be a stickler.
Pretty soon you’ll be down to a barebones outline comprised of digestible chunks of information.
So after you’ve selected one of these online tools to create your masterpiece, you’ll then want to select a topic for your infographic. Pick something that makes sense for your business or for your brand.
Next, research your topic. Gather your data, using reputable sources. And document those sources — you’ll want to include them in your infographic (more on this later.) What are you trying to communicate? If you want to show numbers, be sure to have those numbers readily at hand. If you’re showing a process, write up the steps of the process in short, easy-to-digest nuggets.
Create a Word file or a Google Doc and type in your nuggets of information. Keep the info bits short and easy to digest.
Each of the infographic-building services has its specific modes of operation, but in general you’ll:
- Select a template (although some let you skip the template and just build using their library of backgrounds and images).
- Replace the “dummy” template text with your own text.
- Add your own text boxes as necessary.
- Replace dummy images with free images from their library, or upload your own.
- Change colors and typefaces to match your needs.
- Save your infographic out to your computer as any commonly used file type.
As you build your graphic, keep in mind these general guidelines for creating a successful infographic:
- Write a powerful, impactful headline that addresses your target audience
- Choose a cohesive color palette and stick with it. If you’ve established a palette for your brand, you might want to draw from it.
- Tall, vertical infographics tend to be the most attention-getting, and they fit best on social media, too.
- Limit yourself to one or two fonts; don’t get all crazy with a hundred different typefaces or readers will skip right over your infographic.
- Overall, keep your infographic simple and focused on your topic.
As you work on the lower part of your infographic, be sure build in a section to cite your sources. Adding citations about where you got the data in your infographic increases the credibility and the authority of your graphic and will lead to more sharing and publishing of your work. It’s also a nice shout-out to the people who gathered the data you’re using.
Also, don’t forget to add a call to action. What do you want to happen after readers have enjoyed your infographic? Do you want them to visit your website? Do you want them to donate money to a cause? Do you want them to go and vote? Make sure to tell them what their next steps should be.
Finally, add your branding. Include your logo or at the very least your company name and website URL. 4. Start thinking visually!
OK, you’ve edited the text. Great! But, a page full of short sentences does not an infographic make. Next, go through the content and rework it into visual data.
Things to Look for:
- How-Tos and Processes: Divide these into numbered steps, with headings, and instructions for each.
- Series and Lists: If you’re listing examples, turn them into bullets!
- Comparisons: Comparing 2 or more things? Do it with a chart or table.
- Long Descriptions: Are you using detailed text to describe something? Could an image be used instead?
- Main points: Highlight them in big, bold text.
- Quotes and Statistics: Give them some room to breathe! Use block quotes, graphs, and flashy numbers!
- Fun Facts and Asides: Create a sidebar where they have room to shine on their own.
There are design elements you can add to jazz it up:
Play with font sizes and styles–what phrases, titles, or words do you want to stand out? What text should be big and bold?
Ponder images to support text–Add notes to the infographic outline with imagery ideas. Or, if you’re feeling especially visual, drop in sample images or sketches that convey the story.
As you make progress, a good gut check is to print out what you’ve done so far, take a few steps back, and look at the document as a whole. It won’t be anything close to a final infographic, of course, but you can start to see bigger trends. Like, “Hmm, we’re getting a little text-heavy here. What can we add or change to break that up some?”
Brush up on your graphic design know-how.
Even if you’re not a designer, brushing up on the basics of what graphic design can do will serve you well in taking part in an infographic design process. Chip Kidd, an amazing book designer (he did the cover for Jurassic Park, among many other things) wrote two books—The Cheese Monkeys and Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design—that completely changed the way I think about design.
Step 4: Team up with a designer.
OK, you’ve done due diligence and put together a good draft, but no one works in a vacuum. Time to bring in an expert. The infographic designer will have valuable ideas, some you may not have considered, including additional charts, clearer images, and different ways to visualize information. This opportunity to collaborate with a designer on an infographic iteration will allow design magic to bubble to the surface.
Well, this should be enough to get you started! If you have questions about how to transform content into amazing infographics, or any tips not mentioned here, feel free to hit us up on twitter!
Design a Great Infographic
Great infographic design is meant to enhance the copy, increase comprehension, and make the content as visually appealing as possible.
The number one question to ask when designing: Does this serve the story?
- Know your specs:
Are you designing for print? Social? Web? Mobile? Responsive? What’s your resolution? This is relevant not just for practical reasons but to help achieve your goal. If the goal is to increase FB followers, the infographic better be optimized for social.
- Read the content before you design:
It’s an obvious one, but it’s important. You need to know what you’re really trying to express and you need to double-check that all copy is there.
- Design data according to best practices:
Good data design doesn’t just depict data; it uses design to enhance comprehension and bring clarity to complicated subjects or concepts. The design elements and copy should work symbiotically to tell a cohesive story—rather than design just reiterating what the copy already communicates. To make sure your data visualization is on point, read up on best practices and find out how to design the most common charts and graphs.
- Follow your visual language:
Every brand needs a visual language. Imagery, photography, and iconography are all tools to communicate your brand story. That said, follow your brand guidelines! If your brand is all about minimal line drawings, a brightly colored photo-based infographic is a fail.
- Be consistent:
Six different typefaces and sizes or 2D and 3D illustration combined in one infographic—these are the eyesores to avoid. Again, your brand’s visual language will likely have guidelines for these things, but keep an eye out for consistency.
- Experiment when you can:
Not all infographics have to be static illustrations. If your visual language allows, you can try working with papercraft, photography, or motion. For example, we turned our infographic about the trends for the future of infographics into an animated infographic for INC, which helped us tell the story in an even more exciting way.
- Solicit useful design feedback:
Ask the team to tell you what they think is working and what is not working instead of what they like and don’t like.
- Proof the infographic:
Before you send your infographic into the world, triple check that the copy is clean and the design is on point.
- Is all copy there?
- Are there typos?
- Does it have a logical flow?
- Is everything aligned?
- Are data visualizations accurate and best represented?
- Is the resolution correct?
Nothing’s more embarrassing than a major error. (Let’s not forget the Fox News pie chart that totalled 193%.)
Step 4: Share your infographic
When the infographic is complete, start sharing it. Post it on your website and on your social media channels. A number of infographic-sharing sites, too, allow you to post your work for even more exposure.
As you can see, it’s really easy for non-designers to create their own attractive and effective infographics. You don’t have to be an experienced graphic designer to take advantage of this important marketing tool. Sign up for one of the free online tools we detailed above, or use PowerPoint, and start creating today. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Distribute Your Infographic
Writing a great story and designing a stellar infographic are only half the battle. Getting eyeballs on your work is what will help you ultimately succeed. To help your team distribute the infographic effectively, there are a few extra steps.
Optimize your infographic for SEO: Make sure you have the right file names and keywords to get the most SEO traffic.
- Create shareable assets:
Coordinate with your design team to get assets for your channels. Make sure you have the right resolution, file formats, and sizes, whether it’s going out via email, blog, or social. Breaking up an infographic into different assets is a great way to get more mileage from the content.
- Craft a compelling pitch:
If you’re trying to get coverage (and you should be), you need a pitch that explains why your infographic is interesting and relevant to their readers.
- Use an attention-grabbing subject line: Journalists and influencers get a ton of email. Give them a reason to read yours.
- Keep your pitch personal and brief: Put the story front and center.
- Highlight key takeaways: Include a brief overview, as well as a few bullet-points or “tweetable” stats so the journalist doesn’t have to dig for them.
- Include multiple story angles: Pitch stories that will best align with their readers. If appropriate, offer to write a sample post for your infographic if the journalist is strapped for time.
We hope these tips help you create better infographics and think more critically about your current process. Things are always changing in the marketing world, and even some of these tips may be outdated in a few years, but we’ll do our best to share everything we learn.
Check out some of the infographics we’ve produced over the last year, including an updated infographic of our popular Social Media Manager post, a primer on implementing a KPI-related data analytics, and a guide on when to trendjack.