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Infographics are a hot thing for everyone, everywhere when it comes to content marketing. Back in 2012, Adweek published an article (complete with an infographic) announcing that Tweets with infographics get 832% more retweets than images and articles. Today, we don’t foresee any decline in their desirability ­– Google Trends shows that the use of “infographic” in news headlines has grown steadily since 2010. We’ve also witnessed this trend first hand with an increase in infographics requests from our clients.

Before your company jumps on the infographics bandwagon, or even if you already have, we’ve got some helpful tips to help you decide when to use an infographic and what makes a good one. Here’s what our graphics experts Jennifer and Timppa have to say!

What makes a good infographic?

Timppa: A good infographic clarifies the topic more than just a picture next to some text. The main point of an infographic is to show a flow of information, so I always start by planning out the flow. For example, a client might send us an immensely complex graphic showing an industrial process that one of their engineers has created. I’ll begin the infographic design by rethinking where the process actually starts, where it’s going, and what’s in between. And then I simplify it as much as possible without getting rid of any critical info.

Is a bar graph, for example, an infographic, or is there something more to it?

Jennifer: A bar graph is a bar graph. Standing alone, that’s all it is. Infographics are more visual than just a matrix, graph or chart – you’ll often find descriptive text and graphics like icons or illustrations to support the information presented. Infographics usually have some kind of flow that develops the “story” of the infographic. They tend to have more personality than just a bar graph.

What are the basic design elements in an infographic?

Jennifer: Generally, you’ll find a title, possibly an introductory paragraph prepping the viewer for what they’re going to see or experience and, of course, the visualisation or graphics depicting the information. There might be a key if the infographic has some colour coding or symbols that aren’t immediately self-evident, and footnotes may offer further explanation. And importantly, the source! Infographics without a source are always questionable in my opinion.

Timppa: While I don’t disagree with Jennifer, I don’t think you need to follow any pre-set rules or any hard formulas that define what should be in an infographic. You can visualise anything from “turnover” to “how people lick their ice cream” with infographics, and they can have different design elements depending on what story you want to tell.

When should you use an infographic over just text?

Jennifer: Infographics are best used when you want to make a visual impact with your data or story. If you’re detailing the workflow of how your app is going to impact someone’s day-to-day life, then an infographic would be a good idea. If you’re showing how your research has proven a product to be 45% better than the competitors’ products, then an infographic could really give more oomph to your announcement.

When is it NOT OK to use an infographic?

Timppa: Because infographics are super-sexy at the moment, people want them for anything and everything. You don’t need an infographic in a place where just a few small pictures can do the job. If an infographic doesn’t bring any added value to the message you’re trying to get across, it’s not worth your time or money making one just for the sake of having it.

Jennifer: And if you still find yourself wanting to use an infographic “just because”, then you might want to pause and ask yourself these few questions:

1) Do you have a story to tell visually?

2) Is there a flow of information in your data?

3) Do you have any data at all? It’s hard to make an infographic when there’s nothing to support it.

If your answer is no to any of these, then you may want to reconsider investing in an infographic. And if you’re still unsure, think about asking a communications or design professional to help you figure it out.

Got any layperson’s tips for making infographics for, say, presentations?

Jennifer: Keep things simple and clear. You want to make sure you don’t lose the viewer.

Timppa: Simplify, simplify, simplify until all you have left is a skeletal framework with only the key info needed.

If you want to learn more about infographics, we recommend one of our office-favourite books on the topic: Information Graphics by Sanrda Rendgen, edited by Julius Wiedemann.

Want more helpful tips like this? Check out what we have to say about making stock photos look custom.