With so many infographics online today, it’s more important than ever to differentiate your content from everyone else’s. But, how can you be sure you’re putting your best foot forward?
Start with the story you want to tell. The best infographics put the story first. Then, every word, data point, and design element supports the story being told.
Not every story is told best in infographic form – some are told best with motion, explorative interaction, or long-form written word – but all infographic content should marry text with visuals in a way that ensures logic and intuitive thought are first and foremost. This is where crafting a strong narrative comes into play, to ensure the reader can follow each talking point as intended and can arrive at their own conclusion.
All infographics should be visually focused and intelligently written in order to convey key aspects of a story for fast, easy reader comprehension. The specific aspects may vary from one infographic to the next, depending on the extent and the angle of the story being told, but here are the general important elements to keep in mind:
1. Grab Attention With Interesting And Informative Titles
One look at an article on Buzzfeed or even The Onion shows just how important a title is for drawing in viewers. Alliteration and puns are great starting points, and modifying a well-known phrase can work well, too. Just be sure you’re also being smart, while being clever.
The title you choose should be relevant to your content’s target audience, as well as the subject matter and your objectives. Some brainstorming might be needed to think up a title, or one might come to mind immediately like a bolt of inspiration, so be sure to weigh all ideas against each needed element.
The same goes for subheadings, which can also be catchy, but should ultimately help clarify the overall narrative messaging. A reader should be able to scan the graphic’s main title and headings and quickly understand all main messaging points. This will help ensure that even the anti-readers in your audience pick up on the messaging.
Just like with blog posts, emails and social updates – crafting great headlines is just as important as the content itself!
In this infographic on mobile etiquette, the writer picked a phrase that is conversational and relatable in order to grab the reader’s attention. Then, the writer supplemented the phrase with a subheading that provides a clear indication of the focus of the infographic. The remainder of the infographic can also be quickly scanned via the clear section headings that provide the reader with an at-a-glance overview of the topic.
2. Set Up A Logical Flow That Guides The Reader Through The Story
Logically and concisely ordering content is essential to developing a strong story, but it’s often the most dreaded or overlooked aspect of content creation. Unfortunately, if you don’t take the time to lay out a comprehensible flow of information, you can be sure your readers won’t see it either. So, keep them reading through the whole story by directing it with the questions and answers they’re most likely to ask.
The most linear narratives will set up any necessary background, add context to any included data sets, and then move toward more specific and compelling points of information, before arriving at a logical summation or conclusion. You can see this in our example (below). The introduction establishes the beginning of the story. Then, each new section builds on the previous section, supporting the introduction with data logically organized and presented.
If you’re including more than one data set, try reducing each data set to a single sentence in order to ensure you’re simplifying every point of messaging. Doing so can help you make decisions about how to order the graphic’s content and better identify whether you need to cut or add any information.
3. Focus On Your Research’s Main Insight And Notable Findings
Once you’ve determined the clear and specific story you want to convey, go through all your research and highlight key takeaways to point out. Be sure to maintain an analytical tone, rather than an opinionated tone (a clearly defined stance on the issue). That way, you will avoid seeming biased and you won’t compromise the integrity of the data you’re presenting. Keep in mind that this includes any biases you might reveal by mentioning a brand or inserting sales messaging in the copy.
As you can see, the main findings from the Pew Research survey in our infographic have been organized and presented to help form the story within the infographic. Since this infographic is highlighting key data from a survey, it acts as a summary of the survey.
4. Add Context To Ensure The Data Is Properly Understood
Data points without context are baffling at best and deliberately misleading at worst. Contextual information helps drive the story by speaking to the relevance of any statistics displayed and their significance to the target audience. Context also provides background information necessary to enhance the impact of the statistics.
Just as scenery and setting create context for a literary story as it’s told, your infographic’s narrative should tie together various messaging points and data sets, clearly connecting them for the viewer. Depending on your brand’s guidelines, the copy should typically be conversational, yet professional, in tone.
As far as length goes, as a general rule, if you’ve got more than 2–3 sentences per introduction, subsection, and conclusion, you’ve probably said too much. For single data sets, a single explanatory sentence is typically all that’s necessary. Always read back through what you’ve written to see if you can condense or combine any redundant messaging or wording.
Each data set within the mobile etiquette infographic is accompanied by a brief description that explains its place within the storyline.
5. Include A Sound Conclusion
At this point, you’ve highlighted standout pieces of information, presented the findings in a balanced way, given enough context for the reader to follow along, and carefully selected your main headings to keep people reading.
The last step is to lead the viewer to a desired conclusion without spelling it out for them. There can sometimes be a delicate balance between making a strong statement that clinches the narrative for readers and one that allows them to form their own opinions.
Also, don’t forget to point readers toward some sort of solution or recommendation that ties together any challenges or hypotheses introduced in the opening paragraph. Never leave the reader thinking, “Now what?” Always draw them to the final thinking, “Oh, so that’s what,” before sending them wherever you’d like for them to go next.
In the design of this infographic, the conclusion is highlighted within its own section to solidify the message. After laying out the data and the stats, the conclusion summarizes the key takeaway from the graphic.
The most impactful editorial infographics have focused narrative, and they directly communicate typically complex ideas and pieces of information. Give your graphic the greatest opportunity for success by taking the time to refine the story you want to tell before you begin writing or designing. And, remember, each piece of copy you write plays an essential role in the story’s unfolding.
Finally, here is an example of an infographic that employs these 5 ways to create a compelling story:
About the Author: Ross Crooks is cofounder/CCO of Visage, a content design tool for marketers, and a cofounder of Column Five, an agency specializing in visual content marketing. He is also co-author of Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling (Wiley, 2012) and teaches the Visualization of Information course at Columbia University. Follow him @rtcrooks.