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Let's be totally honest. A significant percentage of infographics circling the Web today are just plain bad. From poorly structured infographics that have no clear message to badly designed ones that literally make your eyes hurt, there's a ton of "chart junk" out there that can serve as examples of what NOT to do.
In this post, we'll go over a few of these and give you a list of clear warning signs that should sound an alarm. If you tick off even one of the items on this list, then you should think again before sharing it with the rest of the world.
But, if you steer clear of all of them, then congratulations! You most likely have an effective and shareworthy infographic on your hands that will help you raise awareness of your brand or cause.
(You can also consult our list of the most common infographic mistakes to help you avoid chart-making pitfalls and additional do's and don'ts.)
You can be sure of one thing: If a reader's gaze is darting from one end of your infographic to another, trying to figure out where to look next, then it is probably lacking structure and visual hierarchy.
Just take a look at the infographic above. At first glance, it looks like a soup of letters and numbers. Although the numbers help to orient the reader a bit, you still find yourself trying to make sense of all the information. In this case, the visual defeats the purpose of creating an infographic. A text-only article would have been much easier to read and understand.
The mark of a good infographic is its effectiveness in communicating a message. That is the final goal.
The infographic below (click to enlarge), for example, uses everything at its disposal--from a harmonious color combination with effective contrast to a clear storyline--to get you, the reader, from point A to point B. Along the way, you are both entertained and enlightened and reach the end, thinking, "Wow, I'm glad I read that!"
Like a good novel or movie, every word and visual element builds up to a satisfying conclusion that leaves you with a different perspective or understanding than what you started with.
Combining pretty colors and minimalist icons isn't enough to make your infographic a good one. The visual above, for example, is poorly structured and implements an infographic type not suited for the information presented (if you need more guidance on types of infographics you can choose from, take a look at this post).
If you have a lot of information to present, your best bet is to organize your data into sections so it is easier to read and scan. Take, for example the infographic below (click to view complete version).
It is neatly divided into sections, making it extremely easy to understand and digest the information presented. Within a few seconds, you have a clear idea of its purpose and message.
Imagine if this very same information were presented without visuals; you would understand the information but have a much harder time assimilating it. If you're in doubt over whether you chose the right type of infographic, ask yourself, "Does it make it easier to understand my message?" You know you have the right infographic type when it makes the reading process effortless and even entertaining.
Some of the most effective infographics are those with a clear storyline (you can read our post on storytelling techniques which can be applied to almost any type of message).
But beware of poorly crafted infographic narratives like the one seen above. Like a bad novel or movie, it makes you feel cheated at the end as it fails to properly develop a story and culminate in a satisfying conclusion, abruptly ending and leaving the reader with a sense that there's just something missing.
On the other hand, take a look at the infographic below. It's a delight to read, both because of the engaging illustrations and the way it is mapped out. It does an excellent job of taking readers by the hand and guiding them through a visual--and entertaining--tour of an airport.
Like any good story, it throws in a couple of pleasant surprises here and there, which make it all the more fun to read.
Another way to tell whether your infographic needs to be reworked is to ask someone who wasn't involved in the creation process to explain it to you. If they don't understand the information or are confused anywhere along the way, then you most likely have to rethink or redesign your visual.
The infographic above, for example, is so convoluted that most readers will probably not understand its content nor find it useful. If you compare this so-called map of the Internet with the interactive visualization below (click to enlarge), you'll find that the latter is much more reader-friendly.
By using bubbles of different colors and sizes to represent websites, it makes it easy for the viewer to distinguish the bigger sites from the smaller ones and to compare them with each other, thereby putting data into context.
If you don't want viewers to ignore your infographic because it looks like millions of others circling the Web, then try to find new and innovative ways to visualize your information. This doesn't mean you have to come up with a whole new infographic format, just find a slightly different angle to things.
This infographic on Kobe Bryant, for example, stands out due to the way colorful charts and graphs are combined with a central image of the basketball player.
Or, take the infographic on the right. It uses a photo of a real-life object--in this case, types of cereals--to create a pie chart.
Although I'm all about infographics, the truth is that some information doesn't benefit greatly from being turned into an infographic.
Take, for example, the visual above. While not terrible, it is basically a nice-looking list that is more visually appealing than plain text because of the icons and color scheme used. Yet, it doesn't communicate all that much more than a basic list with bold headings and bullet points.
To really make your infographic stand out from the crowd, make sure that your information is well suited to this visual format and has a lot to gain from it. The infographic below is a perfect example. The use of visuals is highly effective in revealing the differences in etiquette across the world, which is why this particular infographic has been shared so many times.
If you compare this to the textual version here, then you'll find a world of difference in your level of understanding and engagement with the information.
Another warning sign is the lack of references or sources. Unless your infographic was created based on your own knowledge or experience, you should always cite your sources at the end, as you would with any other informational piece.
The first infographic above doesn't cite any sources, while the one below it, on the same exact topic, provides a list of links.
One of the worst infographic sins you could commit is misleading readers with inaccurate or incomplete information. The infographic above, however, does just that by incorrectly interpreting the results of a study and exaggerating its implications.
On the other hand, this visual on a similar topic handles information much more responsibly and gives useful tips based on agreed-upon facts.
One of the big pluses of using an infographic is the added visual appeal that makes it stand out from textual content. But if your infographic fails to attract eyeballs, then you should think again before sharing it with the rest of the world.
While the visual above can hardly be called an infographic, the one below on the same topic is much more visually engaging and, therefore, more effective.
The harmonious color scheme in combination with endearing illustrations makes this an instant online hit anyone would be proud to share with others.
Even for coffee lovers, the above infographic lacks the visual interest and catchy headline that make for a good infographic. Its one-word, generic title and poor design will turn off even the most ardent coffee-bean aficionado.
Compare this to the infographic above, which instantly grabs viewers' attention with an effective title and proper use of contrast and color combinations.
One of the most common infographic mistake is using too much text instead of visuals, which defeats the purpose of using an infographic. Consider, for instance, the visual above. While it does use some visual elements, these are disconnected from the different points on the list, forcing the reader to move their gaze back and forth as they read the infographic.
This infographic (click to view full version), however, does a better job of using different text styles and visual elements to simplify information and make it easier to assimilate.
Finally, in order to make the most of all the effort put into your infographic, don't forget to include a prominent call to action at the end! Compare the infographic above with the one below. While the first includes a section on how you, the reader, can help, it fails to provide a link to a website, a Twitter handle, an email or a call-to-action button.
Meanwhile, the latter infographic (click to view) has a prominent call to action at the end urging readers to donate to the cause by going a to a specific website.
Did your infographic exhibit any of these warning signs? If you have any questions or comments on how to improve your infographic, let us know in the comments section below. We'd love to hear from you. Or, if you would like to do infographics the right way, starting from professionally designed templates, you can start creating for free here.
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