Cleveland Clinic’s tips for creating a stellar infographic

Never mind squeamish experts and their stuffy terminology. Whether you’re discussing consider organ donations or dirty diapers, straightforward language and graphics help.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

Cleveland Clinic—the Ohio-based hospital group—once created an infographic to help achy people decide whether to treat their pain with ice or heat.

Months later, something strange happened on the Internet. The clicks on and shares of the infographic went crazy.

What happened? Turns out that celebrity fitness guru Jillian Michaels shared that infographic with her Facebook fans, now numbering 2.9 million, says Amanda Todorovich, director of content marketing at the renowned hospital.

Michaels’ fans in shared the infographic all over the Internet, saying: “Here’s where you can look at it better. Here’s where you can see the PDF of it. Here’s where you can print this out,” she recalls. “We didn’t have to do anything.”

Michaels’ post was shared 1,597 times and generated 2,595 “likes” and 114 comments in one day, Todorovich says, drawing nearly 3,000 visits to the Cleveland Clinic story that day. The success demonstrates the power of infographics, she says in a Ragan Training presentation, “How to develop an infographics strategy: Key lessons from Cleveland Clinic

The clinic produces scores of infographics every year, part of a broader content strategy that supports the clinic’s wildly successful Health Essentials blog, which offers health and nutritional information for consumers. It is the most-visited hospital blog in the country, with more than million visits a month.

The clinic’s is the second-most-visited hospital site—driven mostly by content—and leads from earned $204 million in annual revenue in 2013.

Consulting medical experts

Working for Todorovich are eight designers, five writers and two digital strategists (infographics isn’t their only job). They are part of a larger total content marketing team of 21 people.

Getting out an infographic isn’t a slapdash process, even when a project is done on deadline. A medical expert has to review every piece of content, a challenge given that the team posts three to five times a day.

Cleveland Clinic’s content staff often produce infographics during annual awareness months relating to diseases and conditions. These pieces of content aren’t labeled with the month, though, so they don’t seem stale to those who pull them up on a search engine at another time of the year.

An infographic titled “Life is for sharing” discusses organ donation. One called “Stop colon cancer before it starts” recommends exercise, limiting alcohol consumption and eating less red meat. Another explains how to do a monthly self-examination for breast cancer, and the clinic has sought to help people “take charge against diabetes.”

“We feel really strongly that a part of our mission is to educate people and debunk a lot of the craziness that’s out there,” Todorovich says.

Some of that education can make the clinic’s experts squirm. The team has done a series of popular infographics on bodily functions.

“This is an area where we had a lot of debate with our clinical experts,” Todorovich says. “They don’t like the word ‘pee.’ They like the word ‘urine.’ And they really don’t like talking about dirty diapers, and they really don’t like talking about sweat and stinky feet and all those kinds of things.”

The reality is that everybody deals with such issues, and they search the Web for answers. Hence infographics on the color of pee and (ewww) ” Deciphering the dreaded dirty diaper.” Naturally, there was also one (gesundheit!) on the color of snot—another big hit.

A snotty success

When IFL Science shared the snotty infographic on its website and Facebook page, the sites generated more than 3,100 visits for Cleveland Clinic that day, Todorovich says. All told, social media led to the second-highest single day of traffic in history, with 155,290 sessions. IFL Science didn’t do badly itself; the Facebook post garnered nearly 27,000 “likes” and was shared more than 14,000 times.

Here are some of Todorovich’s “musts” for creating a winning infographic:

  • Strong writer/designer collaboration. “The words and the ‘looking good’ of an infographic are equally important,” Todorovich says.
  • Clearly compartmentalized or segmented chunks of copy and accompanying graphics.
  • Legible typography and a clean, classic typeface that can be used in varying sizes on one graphic.
  • Typography that complements, rather than clashes with, the graphics.
  • A limited color palette. Otherwise, it looks too busy.
  • Use of the latest research. Work with experts to gather the most interesting and timely information.
  • A strong brand aesthetic, with a sense of fun thrown in.

She adds that infographics should implicitly say, “Click on me, and I’ll take you straight to the facts without a lot of B.S.”

“You don’t need to write an infographic like you write an article,” Todorovich says. “You get to the point and get out.”


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