10 Dos and Don’ts for Creating Infographics

“Infographics” and its sister “data visualization” may be some of the buzziest buzzwords there are today, especially in government. However, simply calling something an infographic does not make it so. Here are our top 10 dos and don’ts for creating beautiful, effective infographics.

1. Don’t forget to cite your sources.

Look, it’s really simple: if you don’t cite your sources, you’re not making an infographic. You’re making a poster with some stuff on it that may or may not be true. For example, this adorable graphic about ice cream:

Ice cream 'infographic'

It has all the hallmarks of a great infographic: bite-sized facts, with a heirarchical typographic layout and iconography, little arrows and graphical flourishes. It tells a story, and it’s easy on the eyes. But it doesn’t cite sources, so there’s no way to fact-check this information.

2. Do add links to your sources as well as citations wherever possible.

Make it easy for your reader to fact-check your information by including links to your sources, as well as citations. Take the ice cream example: who says chocolate syrup is the world’s most popular topping? Compared to what? What methods were used to determine this? Leading the curious reader to the source would allow them to answer those questions.

3. Don’t rely on iconography to convey an idea.

This is especially true for graphics that are meant for broad audiences. Icons that make perfect sense to you may read like nonsense to someone else. You only have a few seconds to capture — and keep — a reader’s attention. If they can’t get the overall gist of what you’re trying to convey because you’re relying on icons, they’re very likely to just move on to the next thing on their reading list.

4. Do keep graphical elements simple — avoid chart junk.

Think about readability. Creating a bar chart where the bars are, for example, condoms, is distracting from the data. The map imposed on the background of the image and the condoms’ color gradient are also distracting. Taken along with a lack of clear labeling (is this a price per single condom, or per box?) and the inconsistency in data points (cities are included along with countries), this simple bar chart’s data is difficult to read and understand.

(Image credit: Scribol)

5. Do consider color theory.

There are a whole host of reasons why you might want to consider color theory when designing an infographic. There’s aesthetics, obviously: you want your work to look nice. Also consider that colors have meaning. We’re familiar with this from the recent elections, where red represents one party and blue the other on charts and graphs. Color-coding is a common mechanism in our world. Maps and stoplights are both commonly color-coded objects. Also consider that certain colors carry certain meanings in different parts of the world. Ditto certain color combinations — in the United States, red and green together indicate the holiday season, orange and black belong to Halloween, and red and yellow might remind you of your favorite fast-food restaurant. I might even go so far as to recommend you use color sparingly, as a highlight.

6. Don’t forget about colorblindness!

When choosing your color palettes, don’t forget that not everybody sees color the same way. There are different types of colorblindness: some affect the hues people can see, but others cause trouble with the perception of saturation as well as hue. That lovely blue gradient you’ve chosen to represent your data may read like sludge to someone who’s colorblind. Depending on the type of colorblindness your reader suffers from, the chart might look muddy in the best case scenario, or be unreadable in the worst.

This goofy meme is an example of colorblindness-as-a-challenge:

7. Do use online tools for color palettes.

Need a little help picking a colorblind-safe palette, or any palette in general? There are several online tools that can help you choose appropriate, aesthetically pleasing colors. Samantha Zhang at Graphiq has a great post that nails the considerations you should take into account when designing a color palette, and suggests tools for designing yours. ColorBrewer is one of my favorites.

8. Do create a narrative.

The whole point of infographics is to take data points and use them to help tell a story — but it’s very easy to forget to actually craft that story once you get into the nuts and bolts of design. Sketch out your narrative first: what point are you trying to make, and what data can you use to support it?

9. Don’t include every. Single. Piece. Of information.

This goes back to readability and attention span. Once you’ve decided what your point is, don’t feel compelled to include all the data ever collected in history to support that idea. An infographic is not a comprehensive research paper or investigative report. Choose your supporting arguments wisely, and leave out any information that is even remotely irrelevant. Why create noise where you don’t need to?

10. Do remember to edit visually.

So you’ve cleaned up your chart junk, considered your color palette, added your source, and reduced data noise. Great job! Now go back one more time and take a look at the text on your page. Where can you tighten up the copy and labels, to reduce text and let the graphics tell the story?

Go forth and create infographics. If you want a little more guidance, here are a pair of resources for building infographics and data visualizations:

* Recommended Reading for Infographics
* Dataviz Checklist

And if you want to see more of what NOT to do, take a look at WTF Visualizations.