Avoid Boring Visuals and Create Effective, Usable Infographics

Meg Hoppe
Posted by Meg Hoppe on March 20, 2014

Workings-in-headOur brains are biased toward the visual: we recall information more readily (and accurately) if we’ve seen an image that represents it than if we simply read or even hear the information. That’s one reason infographics are so popular today. They’re a powerful way to convey data, concepts, ideas, theories, processes and more.

Fritz Kahn, a medical scientist, artist, writer and educator, just might be the godfather of infographics. In 1926 he published Man As Industrial Palace (Der Mensch als Industriepalast), a beautifully rendered illustration of the physical processes of the human body. It was a visual metaphor conceived to help people understand the science of the human body without the complexity that often intimidates people. It did so in part by making the body’s functions analogous to a manufacturing facility.

Man As Industrial Palace is just about everything an infographic should be:

Kahn-body-imageClear and easy to understand. Even at first glance, there’s no doubt about what this infographic is illustrating. And by using analogies to explain the functions of each of the organs shown, Kahn gave the viewer powerful cues that aid comprehension.

Visually interesting. Good infographics are nice to look at: They’re designed using appealing color palettes, a blend of shapes and devices, their style is appropriate to their topic, and they lead the eye naturally from start to finish. They’re art, really.

Represents just enough information – not too much or too little. If the topic you’re trying to represent with an infographic is unusually complex, an infographic may not be the answer. An infographic should reduce confusion by boiling a concept down to its simplest form but often we see infographics that, because they’re trying to communicate far too much, actually make things more confusing.

Kahn’s infographic kept to the basics of the body’s functions without getting carried away with details that the story didn’t require. The infographic below (left), on the other hand, is trying to convey far too much information; the one below (right) doesn’t have enough of a story to warrant an infographic.


Features content that’s ideal for an infographic. Today, we’re seeing people using infographics for everything from how to apply eye shadow to assessing replenishment cycle activities year-to-date in vendor comparison scenarios (really). The best infographics take otherwise complex integrated information and simplifies it, allowing for quick, almost “at-a-glance” comprehension by the viewer. They work especially well for data with elements of time (line graphs and timelines), location (maps), and scale (bar charts and visual comparisons)

If all you have to depict on an infographic is a laundry list of services, don’t go to the effort of creating it. An infographic shouldn’t be used to tell viewers something that’s just as easily (or better) done using a simple chart or table. They also shouldn’t be used to illustrate something that needs no visual explanation, like this one.

Uses graphics that relate to the topic. The infographic below is meant to depict the different types/sizes of business startups…so why the chickens and a barn? Keep your graphics relevant to the topic; if you were to do an infographic about Americans’ eating habits, for instance, you could use icons of hamburgers and soda cans to enhance the message rather than simply circles and lines. It’s important that the visual style strengthens the message you’re trying to convey, not distract from it or make it more confusing.


How To Know If An Infographic Is The Right Thing For Your Topic

When clients ask us if they should do an infographic, we ask these questions:

Will it illustrate something interesting? If a client that makes aluminum truck cabs were to want an infographic that depicts the process of sanding welded seams, we’d probably recommend they rethink that – sanding welded seams is a process that’s already widely understood by their audience. But if that client had a unique sanding process that resulted in greater paint adherence and durability, then we’d talk. 

Is there a compelling story here? Is what you’re considering illustrating something valuable enough that people will want to download it? Using infographics as advanced content, your best prospects will give their contact information in exchange for a great idea, but you have to make sure that it provides information they can’t get anywhere else, at least in that “quick read” form.

Is an infographic the best way to depict the information? It’s pretty clear these days that many companies do infographics to communicate information because they’re “in” and cool and colorful. But they’re not always the best way to share data. The infographic below may have sounded like a good idea, but the amount of copy required to get the point across makes it very unappealing. A short video may have been a better choice; a video provides the same visual power plus sound and motion. A slide deck would have worked, too.


Want to know more about content marketing and how infographics might fit into your strategy? Take a look at our free download, "Answers To The Top 15 Questions About Inbound Marketing"!

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Topics: Content Marketing

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