What Makes A Great Infographic? 8 Experts Weigh In

As you may have noticed, using infographics for content marketing is an incredibly popular tactic right now. Infographics are being used to illustrate a range of different information, including new employee announcement, data visualization, humor and education.

However, with the widespread use of infographics in marketing increasing every day, there is growing concern about maintaining infographic quality. Some believe that infographic marketing will go the way of article marketing if we begin to sacrifice content quality and placement. Thus, this post will focus on advice from experts on what they think makes a truly great infographic.

1. Alberto CairoAlberto Cairo

Alberto Cairo teaches infographics and visualization at the School of Communication of the University of Miami and is the author of ‘The Functional Art: an Introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization.”

• What makes an excellent infographic?

Good data properly and rigorously processed and organized, structure (narrative or otherwise), copy, and finally, visual style.

An infographic should be thought of as a cognitive tool for understanding, an extension of our visual system: a consequence of this is that its form (or forms) should match the tasks it is supposed to help me complete.

The first step any designer should take before even switching on the computer is to ask herself: “What do I want my reader to get from this graphic? What will the reader try to do with it?”.

Then, she should choose graphic forms accordingly: Do you want to show the geographical pattern of scattering of a variable? Then, you may need a bubble or choropleth map. Do you want readers to be able to accurately compare values and rank the regions? Then, maps or bubbles are inappropriate and you need to use a bar graph or a dot plot. In other words, think about function before you think about aesthetics.

• What should my expectations be for an infographic? 

An infographic is a visual presentation of evidence, not just a pretty picture. Therefore, you should look for accuracy, depth, and a presentation that matches what the human visual brain can and cannot do. This is something many designers don’t really get: the goal of a graphic is not to make numbers “interesting,” but to transform those numbers (or other phenomena) into visual shapes from which the human brain can extract meaning.

As I wrote in The Functional Art, a graphic should not be something to be seen, but something to be read and understood. It is not a presentation that you passively absorb, but a visual device you should be able to manipulate and analyze to better comprehend a story.

2. Dan DannenbergDan Dannenberg

Daniel Dannenberg is an Infographic Designer for Vertical Measures, a content marketing agency, who loves a good chart, video production, solid graphic design, complex illustrations and a constant rotation of new Spotify playlists.

• What makes an excellent infographic?

Bottom line: choose the right designer. Find an infographic designer that has experience, possesses sharp design skills, handles data accurately and shows variety and growth through their work.

Then, work with the designer to create a memorable experience. An infographic should leave an impression through compelling data, portrayed through a consistent, clear, unique design and legible type that magnifies the information rather than taking away from it. A great designer can do this.

• What should my expectations be for an infographic?

Know the infographic creation process of your chosen designer, from what steps you are involved in, to the number of revisions, and the turnaround time. This all lends itself toward what you can expect from your infographic. From that point on, you can carve out a solid topic prior to the design step of the process; and then, trust in your designer to provide a content piece that suits the medium and is worthy of your audience’s attention.

3. Jack HagleyJack Hagley

Jack Hagley is a London based graphic designer specializing in infographics.

• What makes an excellent infographic?

I am going to explain the concept of infographics as a sandwich. As a BLT is an excellent sandwich, this will be my example. Think of this almost as an infographic, but with words.

  • Concept: The idea for the sandwich: as in thinking, “I wonder what would happen if I combined bacon, lettuce and tomato?”
  • Data: The ingredients. Collect bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo.
  • Story: The recipe. This tells us what to do when, and how it should happen.
  • Design: The process of combining all the ingredients into a delicious sandwich and placing it nicely on a plate.

It may, of course, happen that you get the ingredients first and have to work out what to make, rather than the other way around.

• What should my expectations be for an infographic?

To continue my sandwich metaphor: What should my expectations of a sandwich be? A good idea, presented with obvious care and attention. Ingredients well combined and from reputable sources. Looks great, easy to consume and won’t give me a stomach ache because the bacon was off.

The only difference between a great infographic and a great sandwich is that you don’t want to share the sandwich.

4. Matt SiltalaMatt Siltala

Matt Siltala is the President and Founder of Avalaunch Media, an Internet marketing agency.

• What makes an excellent infographic?  

I think one of the biggest factors in the success of an infographic is whether it’s “timely.”  For instance, we timed this ‘True Cost of the iPhone 5‘ graphic to coincide with the iPhone 5′s release.

Since the iPhone 5 itself was buzzing, there were a lot of publishers willing to run a graphic that introduced a new perspective on a popular topic. Mashable, Gizmodo, Huffington Post and others were willing to run this graphic because it was relevant right then.   

• What should my expectations be for an infographic?  

I think you should expect an infographic to be one of your site pages that really sees some social media sharing. People outside our industry are not sick of infographics, despite what a lot of marketers tell you.

Generally speaking, a well-done graphic/image will be shared better than almost any other content you can produce. Good infographics will also help build links. There is nothing more awesome than running a report on a graphic and seeing several powerful links (from big publishers, .edu’s, etc).

All of this exposure is great for branding and reputation management, as well. Of course, you are not going to hit a grand slam every time, but if we can inspire some real social interaction and build 10+ quality links with a graphic, I am pretty excited.

5. Dave SnyderDave Snyder

Dave Snyder is the CEO of Copypress, a content lifecycle company.

• What makes an excellent infographic?

Infographics are a medium, so amazing content makes an amazing infographic. Emotional appeal, concrete visuals, credible data points, and in the end, amazing art work, all go into an excellent infographic.

Truly terrible infographics don’t hit on any of these marks; they simply try to graphically represent “something.”

• What should my expectations be for an infographic?

If I am purchasing an infographic or any other piece of content at a premium price I am looking to achieve the following:

  1. Generate initial traffic
  2. Generate residual link value for search
  3. Generate primary or secondary conversions

Some of the sub-par work I am seeing done in the infographic space is being done simply to generate links, and the practitioners don’t really understand how content spreads.

Just because something is formatted as an image doesn’t make it more likely to get links. Yes, people are more likely to grab and share images due to a lack of issues with dupe content, but no one wants to put an ugly image on their site just to get free content.

6.  Jesse ThomasJesse Thomas

Jesse Thomas is the founder and CEO of the amazing interactive agency JESS3, who focuses on information design.

• What makes an excellent infographic?

An excellent infographic is one that’s beautiful and interesting enough to make people want to print it and hang it on their walls. But in its life on the Web, the primary purpose of an infographic is to spark informed conversation and action. That means having a point of view and expressing it in a way that empowers the audience to speak or act.

It should also be meaningful. Data can capture so much truth about the world that our senses can’t, but that value is lost if the data isn’t put into context — and it’s some combination of moronic and unethical when it’s put into the wrong context.

And, of course, an excellent infographic is one that not only makes readers say, “This is awesome;” it makes them say, “This is awesome… and now I’m gonna share it with everyone I know!”

• What should my expectations be for an infographic?

You should expect it to be visually appealing — both beautiful and clean. I know those are subjective terms, but infographics are visual storytelling devices, and the difference between poor design and great design is like the difference between watching a film that was shot on an old flip phone by a seven-year-old versus one shot on 70mm film by a pro.

As a piece of Web content, an infographic should set the tone for conversation, which means speaking the audience’s language. Is it a conversation for the boardroom or the barroom, the ladies’ room or the locker room? An infographic should be intelligent and tell the audience something they don’t already know, but say it with words and terms they do.

Lastly, do your homework. Know your data and your audience, because you can be sure they‘ll know if you don‘t. To rephrase the tagline from Alien: on the Internet, everyone can hear you fail.

7. Mike VolpeMike Volpe

Mike Volpe is the Chief Marketing Officer at HubSpot, a marketing software company.

• What makes an excellent infographic?

Great infographics have high information density. Unfortunately, most infographics these days are really just charts, but with more drawing on them.  The best infographics convey a lot of information in a lot less space than it would take to write about the topic or have regular graphs of the data.

• What should my expectations be for an infographic?

You should expect to learn something and have your perception of the world challenged so you think about things in a new way, if only for a moment.  Too many infographics today have no interesting data, nothing that makes you stop and ask yourself a question or ponder if you should re-evaluate your assumptions about how the world works.

8. Brian WallaceBrian Wallace

Brian Wallace is the President of NowSourcing, Inc., a leader in infographic design and promotion, based in Louisville, KY.

• What makes an excellent infographic?

Infographics are so much more than a pretty picture.  The art and science behind an excellent infographic is truly a team effort. In short, you need all of the following to win:

  • Focused research — many people shortcut this step, don’t validate data, and pull information from Wikipedia and random blog posts.
  • Storytelling — infographics aren’t just another PowerPoint slide. It’s got to be a cohesive story and not just unrelated bullet points.
  • Good design — self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised :)
  • QA — spelling and grammar count
  • Promotion — the ability to move that needle

• What should my expectations be for an infographic?

As with anything in life, you get what you put into it. You should have clearly defined goals before you start the project. Some clients want pure visibility, others are looking for big links, or direct sales.

That said, a good infographic will bring you dozens of links and thousands of page views. On a higher end, we’ve seen some infographics get hundreds of links and total reach into the tens of millions. It depends on how well received the infographic is beyond the initial promotion.

What do you think makes a great infographic? Let me know in the comments!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content Marketing | Content Marketing | Content Marketing Column

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About The Author: is the president of Vertical Measures, a search, social & content marketing company helping their clients get more traffic, more leads, and more business. Arnie has held executive positions in the world of new technologies and marketing for more than 20 years. He is a frequent speaker and author of "Accelerate! Moving Your Business Forward Through the Convergence of Search, Social & Content Marketing" available on Amazon.



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  • Sarah Schager

    LOL at Jesse Thomas’ photo!

  • Kat Athanasiades

    Great answers to these two important questions about infographics! I was disappointed, though, that there were no women in this group of eight (no, I’m not counting the cardboard cutout). Some data viz experts to contact might be Stephanie Evergreen (Evergreen Data), Cole Nussbaumer (Storytelling with Data, Google), or Naomi Robbins (Forbes). Links below.

    http://stephanieevergreen.com/
    http://www.storytellingwithdata.com/
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/naomirobbins/

  • http://twitter.com/dannyashton dannyashton

    Totally with Jesse on this one, it’s all about the users experience.

    If people care enough about the infographic to share it then it’s a great infographic. We have to be careful not to get snobby about particular design styles. Certain users like the funny animated lists whilst some users love complex data visualisations.

    I disagree with Mike that every great infographic needs to “re-evaluate your assumptions about how the world works.” Some infographics can be great if they just bring a smile to someone’s face and they share it with a friend.

    Great infographics are those that fulfil the needs of the audience they are aimed at.

  • http://twitter.com/BInfographics Best Infographics

    I love this quote, “Storytelling — infographics aren’t just another PowerPoint slide. It’s
    got to be a cohesive story and not just unrelated bullet points.” That is what is usually missing. So many facts and pretty pictures, but no real story.

  • http://twitter.com/ArnieK Arnie Kuenn

    Hi Kat – sorry it took me so long to reply, was on the road. Thanks for those suggestions. Just so you know, I posted on my social networks asking for Infographic experts and that’s how this group was selected. I thought the same thing — no women? But I will save these names for the future.

  • Kat Athanasiades

    Thanks Arnie!

 

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