Is your infographic a handy visualisation or a picture puzzle?

James Burgess | June 18, 2014

Image, Infographic of Albert Einstein quote: 'Make things as simple as possible... but not simpler.'

Image from infographic made by glow new media

Infographics are officially A Thing. We see them all over the place, from websites to magazines; from annual reports to the news on TV.

Francesco Franchi of Il Sole 24 ORE, one of Italy’s top financial newspapers, has a great quote about ‘infographic thinking’:

This isn’t just ‘how to make some numbers and vector graphics look clever together’. It’s a narrative language — it’s ‘representation plus interpretation to develop an idea’.

A good infographic can help you make your point clear and compelling. An infographic can be more compelling than a traditional graph or diagram. Conveying your message clearly is almost as important as having a good message in the first place. But not all infographics in business documents are clear or compelling.

The basic principles of plain English for written content translate well into good practice for infographics. Here are three questions to ask yourself before you unleash your latest creation on your colleagues or clients.

1. Does your infographic have one simple message?

Some infographics try to make many points with one image. In business writing, it’s good to separate your information into small chunks that are easy to consume. The same goes for infographics. Avoid the temptation to pack everything in!

2. Does your infographic add anything to the text?

Visual presentation can be a great way to get across quantitative information — particularly the change in something, or the relative values of two things. But it can draw the reader’s attention away from the text, and you have less control over when and how it is read — before or after the text, or with or without context. Think of your key message, and make sure that’s what your infographic illustrates.

3. Does your infographic present only relevant information?

Data-visualisation guru Edward Tufte’s charts and graphs are legendary for presenting all the right information with no ‘fat’. An infographic is just the same — you can’t assume your reader will see past any ‘noise’ to see your message. Use just enough detail and information to get your point across, and nothing more. Don’t use a general diagram to illustrate a specific point, and think about what you can take out without losing meaning.

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