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Infographics: Turning Data into Compelling Stories

Infographics: Turning Data into Compelling Stories


By: Connie Blaszczyk, Managing Editor, Monster Resource Center

The visualization of information is everywhere online – with infographics a ubiquitous trend.

As a format, infographics tell stories through the visualization of data, creating a compelling narrative that – at their best – speak to any audience.

The question (among others) is, what makes a great infographic – and how can your business leverage this visual format?

For answers, we asked the experts at Column Five — Jason Lankow, Josh Ritchie, and Ross Crooks. Their new book is aptly titled Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling (Wiley, 2012).

Monster: Why have infographics become so popular?

Column Five: I think social media has helped propel infographic distribution and brought to our attention the fact that people have always enjoyed visual learning – kind of like the Internet and cats, or even memes, to a lesser degree.

I think we are seeing a huge spike in interest in companies using infographics for brand-marketing purposes, but most publications I can think of have used them since as far back as I can remember.

Monster: Given their ubiquity, will infographics become tiresome and end up on the Internet trash heap?

Column Five: What, like the written word, pictures, and videos? Bad infographics will end up trashed, but there will always be a market for good information design and visual storytelling.

Monster: What are some of the worst infographic mistakes that you see most often?

Column Five: There are many, but the ones that irk me the most are:

1. Really bad mistakes in data visualization.
2. Really poor design that doesn’t really fit the story or is just difficult to look at.
3. Information overload.

Sometimes you can say more by saying less.

Monster: Are infographics a useful marketing device for small companies?

Column Five: They certainly can be. That question is similar to asking whether articles, pictures, or videos can be effective for a small company.

An infographic does not have any special power; the marketing world is simply starting to realize that this type of communication can be useful to get a brand’s message across.

Previously, information design was leveraged for academic or journalistic purposes. Its foray into marketing communication as a medium is just newer, which is why so many people are talking about it now.

At the end of the day, an infographic is a means to an end – a way of telling a story that hopefully has an audience interested in hearing it.

With regards to marketing purposes, if the story is dull or self-aggrandizing, the best design can’t magically help get the message across to a new group of potential customers. It might pique their interest at first, if it’s nice to look at, but the information needs to have some substance, some meaning.

Monster: What social media channels can help make them viral?

Column Five: Any, I suppose. Facebook and Twitter have huge audiences. The real issues, with regards to virality, are the story you’re telling and how you’re telling it.

The Internet is very meritocratic; if you create interesting content or if you have a story worth telling, people will find out about it.

Social media is definitely a great engine for discovery and sharing, and it can accelerate the distribution of a message, but people have to have a reason to want to share content.

Conversely, if you have the largest audience at your disposal but have nothing interesting to share with them, the end result can be pretty dismal. They can even feel like you are wasting their time.

Monster: How best can smaller companies that lack an in-house marketing team create their own infographics?

Column Five: If you know what you’re doing and are good at it and enjoy it, then do it. I don’t know how to work on my car, and I don’t know how to make alterations, so I hire people to do these things for me. It’s the same with information design. I would recommend working with an agency or an individual that has experience doing it.

Monster: Can they be done on a tight budget?

Column Five: As with anything, you get what you pay for. The creative industries are the epitome of this truism. I’m not saying there aren’t deals out there to be had, but it’s a good general rule of thumb to keep in mind while you’re shopping around.

Monster: What type of information is best formatted in an infographic?

Column Five: Any information for which there is an audience. You need a clear message and to format it in a way that is visually appealing and makes sense.

Monster: Can you share some examples of successful infographics, and why they’re effective?

Column Five: Sure. In the context of marketing communications, we determine an infographic to be a success by whether or not we were able to help a brand tell its story in its intended way, to its intended audience, in a way that helped them reach a business/communication objective.

Virality (as measured by social metrics) is not always the litmus. Here are a few examples of projects that we worked on that we believed satisfied the above criteria.

This is a guide we did about Instagram:

The Business Marketer's Guide to Instagram Infographic by Column Five

This is one we did for Wellness FX:

Wellness FX Infographic: Your Health in One Drop - The Power of Blood Diagnosis by Column Five

Monster: How do you see the infographic format evolving?

Column Five: We anticipate more interactivity, more personalization, more exploration, more focus on user experience design, and more interesting ways to create interesting data out of ways never explored before, just to name a few.

There will always be interest in the static infographic as we currently know it, as well as in some of the more-involved types that are starting to pop up, such as interactives, motion graphics, and so forth.

We’ve only really reached the tip of the iceberg with regards to visual storytelling through information design.

Author Bio:
Jason Lankow, Josh Ritchie, and Ross Crooks
are founders of Column Five, a leading creative agency specializing in infographic design, data visualization, and social PR. They are co-authors of Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling (Wiley, 2012).