How to avoid ending up with a bad infographic

The idea behind infographics is simple, and summed up in the old saying: A picture is worth a thousand words. Infographics turn data into pictures, with the aim of making it easier for readers to understand and to think about the subject.

If you have a lot of data to present, and you want people to understand the story it tells, an infographic can be an engaging and effective way to prove the saying right. Or it can be a disaster, like some of the examples collected by WTF Visualizations.

What makes an infographic effective?

To be effective, an infographic needs to:

  1. have a clear purpose (if your purpose doesn’t suit visualisation, don’t use an infographic)
  2. achieve its purpose for the intended readers
  3. make sense by telling the story in the data and helping readers see trends and patterns
  4. be true to the data; that is, accurate and not misleading or distorted
  5. be appealing, so that people want to read it.
Image, example of an infographic.

Infographics need to tell a story. Image by Stefan Leijon / CC BY-ND

What goes wrong

All five of those criteria are critical to the success of your infographic, and you can fail at any one of them. We’ve seen infographics that have a clear purpose and are true to the data, but that are too confused and cluttered to make sense or to be appealing, and so are not fit for purpose. And we’ve seen highly attractive pieces of infographic artwork from the hands of a professional designer where the purpose is unclear, the data is questionable, and the story makes no sense.

The top four criteria belong to you

In our workshop, Infographics: Telling stories with pictures, we assume that many people will hire a professional to look after criteria 5. But the designer’s work will only be as good as their brief.

Whether you use one of the growing number of apps to make your own infographic, or brief someone who spends their lives creating visualisations, you need to get the first four criteria right. You need to know your purpose, know your intended readers, know the story you want to tell, and select the right data.

See more about our workshop to find out how we can help you make sure your pictures are worth a thousand words.

Infographics: Telling stories with pictures

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