Apr 25, 2011

Tips for Creating & Using Infographics

The Social Media Funnel, by Mark Smiciklas of Intersection Consulting

Some of the most popular images on the web and in media today aren’t photos.  They’re infographics – the colorful charts, graphs and graphics that encapsulate data and tell a story at a glance.  An infographic graces the front page of every issue of USAToday, in the “Snapshot” section.   Edelman’s David Armano makes copious (and effective) use of infographics on his blog, Logic+Emotion. The more I looked around the more infographics I saw, and I started to wonder about their creation and use, and I called Mark Smiciklas of Vancouver-based Intersection Consulting to learn more.

I don’t know Mark, and hadn’t spoken to him, but I’ve been admiring Intersections infographics, which are posted on Flickr, for some time now.  Some are funny, some are elegant, some are poignant and all are smart.

Anti-Social Media, by Mark Smiciklas of Intersection Consulting

Right off the bat, Mark noted that he’s not a designer by trade. “I use Microsoft Publisher – which a “real designer” probably wouldn’t use,” he told me. “But it’s an accessible tool, inexpensive and easy to use.  It’s all you need to create simple infographics.  It will take you to a certain level.”

Mark’s goals for the infographics he creates are simple — he wants convey ideas in a quick, simple manner, and he wants to encourage his readers to share the images.  The images he’s created for the Intersection Marketing Blog are also posted to Flickr and other social networks, and have developed fantastic awareness for Mark’s business.   He encourages others to share and re-post his messages, and only asks for simple attribution of his work.  His strategy has paid off, creating a lot of referring links (and link juice) to his web site — an outcome, he notes, that was part of the strategy.

Best practices for creating infographics:

I asked Mark about the characteristics of he infographics that have worked best for Intersection, and the recurring theme was simplicity.

“You can’t tell the whole story,” Mark emphasized as we discussed how much information to put into an infographic. “Whether it’s text, video or graphics, people have limited capacity for time and attention when it comes to online consumption of media.”

Infographics can fall prey to the same problems long text articles do, Mark pointed out.  We use bullets, bold text, subheads and call-outs to make long stretches of text palatable. However, for an infographic to work, it needs to be simple.  If you find yourself trying to express multiple ideas within one image, Mark suggests you split the ideas up, and create graphics to accommodate other ideas.  And making the infographic easy to digest is crucial to its success.  Mark offered several key tips to keep in mind when creating an image:

  • Make it simple
  • Employ a lot of white space
  •  Any text needs to be easy to read – use clean fonts that are large enough so people don’t have to enlarge the graphic to read the text.
  • The idea should be accessible ‘at a glance.’
  • Make it as easy for the reader as possible to consume the idea.

Getting started: learn to think visually

Even if you’re not a visual thinker, Mark believes we can train ourselves to think visually, with some practice.  His suggestions for developing your capacity for communicating with images include:

  •  Think in terms of bite-size pieces of info, with just a quote or a sentence.
  • Think in terms of numbers as well.  People love lists.  5 reasons why, seven things to avoid – that sort of thing works visually too.
  • Keep a running notebook of ideas.  Jot down ideas, try to sketch out the concepts even if you can’t draw (which Mark says he can’t.)   Decide what message you want to share with visuals.
  • Publish. It doesn’t need to be art worthy of a gallery.  Sometimes we get paralyzed about the need to be perfect – with any type of content.  Just publish.  Use a second set of eyes if you can. But publish.
  • If you’re stuck, there are inexpensive options to pursue.  Interns or students would love to have infographics in their portfolio.  It can lead to credibility for the artist.

Mark also suggested a presentation on thinking visually authored by the aforementioned David Armano. It is instructive and offers a framework for developing visuals:

Why infographics work so well:

People consume information differently online, and they learn differently, Mark pointed out as we talked about why infographics work so well on the web and in social networks.  Helping readers learn and retain messages are reasons enough, he noted, to give readers options.  Mark recommends re-purposing the infographics you develop in a variety of ways – use them with press releases, share them on social networks, use images as blog posts,and embed them in your web site.  The visibility created in social networks and search engines by the use of images make the benefits of using visuals in an organizations’ communications undeniable.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s VP of social media.

Learn more about visual PR, and using multimedia to illustrate and enliven your messages.

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