3 tips to quickly create better, cheaper infographics

Want more bang for your content buck? Here are three ways to pump up your infographics.

Infographics remain among the most shareable content formats on social media. They’re also perfect for anything from white papers and articles to reports and sales brochures.

Here are three ideas to boost the quality and quantity of your data visualizations:

1. Don’t run from “chart junk.” Chart junk is a term coined by information design godfather Edward Tufte to decry anything in a visualization that isn’t data or wholly dedicated to explaining the data (such as axis lines or labels).

These extra elements can include illustrations and icons. One study even showed that placing an image behind a chart can reduce understanding of the data being displayed. Yet other research asserts that charts containing chart junk are just as informative.

What to do?

“Throw out the rules,” says data visualization instructor and Beehive Media founder Bill Shander. “Think instead about what’s best for your particular audience, and apply design principles you believe will work for them.”

For example, keep it simple if you’re creating data visualizations for doctors. “They’ll want unfettered access to the data and are used to digging deep into charts,” he says. “They may be annoyed by extra visuals or ‘chart junk.'”

A chart intended for the general public, however, might actually benefit from additional icons or illustrations.

“They can definitely make the data more engaging and memorable, which is worth doing,” Shander says. “Just avoid putting an overly bright, colorful or detailed illustration behind your chart. Instead, try a faded and iconic image so it’s less distracting.”

Register for Ragan’s March 2 virtual summit “Next-generation infographics that pop” for more infographics tips from Bill Shander, Amanda Todorovich (Cleveland Clinic), and Angie Blackmar and Casie Harbin (Aflac).

2. Don’t always DIY. “Designers get a bad rap. Old tropes that they’re flaky and only care about making something ‘pretty’ need to be wiped from your mind,” says Shander. “Good designers will save you time and money you’d otherwise pour into bad ideas.”

How can you ensure you find the best designer to help execute your vision? Shander recommends screening for:

  • A thoughtful approach to data . “Talk to them about the data you’re publishing, and see if they ask intelligent questions about it,” he says. “Don’t just say, ‘I need an infographic that looks like X’ and assume you’re right. A good designer should have suggestions that will make your initial thoughts even better.”
  • Experience working with data. Do they have a portfolio? Have they created infographics or interactive data experiences? How about data-heavy PowerPoints or annual reports?

“You don’t need to find someone who’s done a million of them,” Shander says, “but you also don’t want to try out a newbie on your project—unless you have time to test, experiment and train them.”

  • A hunger for feedback. “Designers should be asking questions about the goals of the piece, the audience’s needs and the outcomes,” he says. “You need to provide clear answers on these points. Then, when they present concepts, you need to communicate clearly what does and doesn’t work—and why.”

Providing that type of feedback requires you to have a solid idea of what you want, along with a willingness to help guide the designer to a solution.

“Just saying, ‘I don’t like it,’ isn’t as helpful as, ‘I don’t think this communicates what we’re trying to express, because the data is focused on a time-driven component when all we really care about is the final number,'” says Shander.

3. Don’t discount no- and low-cost tools. “There are a million tools out there that don’t have to eat into your budget,” says Shander. Here are three of his favorites, from free to cheap:

  • Piktochart. “This is a fun online infographic creation platform,” he says. “Just log in, pick a template or start from scratch, and drag and drop images, icons, charts, maps and more into a final output that can be published on your site or printed.”

A basic account is free and allows unlimited creations, access to an intuitive image editor, access to over 4,000 icons and images, and the ability to download and share your creations. For a low monthly fee, you can create rich interactive or more advanced, static data communications vehicles.

  • Flourish. “This brand-new tool lets you create animated interactive charts and data stories,” says Shander. “It’s for non-technical people. You just upload a spreadsheet, pick a template, and choose colors and interactions in a pretty simple way.”

The free version provides access to dozens of core templates for maps, charts, visual stories and presentations, along with unlimited public views, the ability to embed projects or save them for offline use and more.

  • Carto. “This is an amazing open-source mapping tool,” Shander says. “Even a non-technical person can upload a spreadsheet and make an interactive map that would make a programmer jealous.”

The application includes built-in wizards and technology that makes it simple to create incredible and beautiful map-based experiences. If you have access to a programmer, you can customize the maps even further.

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager. Bill Shander, Amanda Todorovich (Cleveland Clinic), and Angie Blackmar and Casie Harbin (Aflac) will reveal more infographics insights in PR University’s March 2 virtual summit, “Next-generation infographics that pop: New ways to capture more eyes and ROI.”

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