When you’re cruising down a curvy highway at 75 miles an hour in the middle of a long trip, it’s nice to come upon a place where you can pull over for a break.
Anyone in marketing is aware of the demands on people’s time. No matter how fun new media can be, it also adds to the relentless onslaught of information everyone is trying to process. As a result, communicating more rapidly through visuals has never been more important.
If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I work on a print magazine. Within such a conventional vehicle, it is always a struggle to come up with the right combination of text and graphics to communicate our key messages.
So I always do a “flip test” before putting any publication to bed. Basically I take a final look to see if someone in our target audience didn’t read a single word but simply flipped through and glanced at a few things, would they still get the big picture?
Because I work with an incredibly talented art director the answer is always yes. Invariably, he’s already done a fabulous job with art directing our photography and creating compelling and visually appealing design. I try to do my part with edgy headlines, captions, subheads, pull-out quotes and so on.
But it seems like it is time to step up our game to really engage our increasingly information-fatigued readers. To go beyond the flip test and actually get more of them delving in, really understanding and becoming advocates for our institution.
Recently, that led me to infographics.
What is an infographic?
The best way to explain an infographic is with an infographic.
This is an infographic on infographics from visual.ly which states: “Using Lego blocks and photography we wanted to show that a good infographic is simple and requires very little text.”
Is this just a trend?
Major publications have featured infographics for decades at least in the forms of pie charts, bell curves, Venn diagrams, bar graphs and the like, as well as in-depth, complex illustration to communicate information that would be unwieldy in text form.
In fact, the concept is anything but new. You could argue that the earliest humans invented infographics when they drew on cave walls.
But infographics have been repurposed in a social media context as profound, creative and absolutely fascinating ways to visualize data.
Where does writing fit in?
While infographics clearly put graphic designers and artists in the lead, the need for good writing and editing will still be an important component.
Marketingprofs.com offers this advice on infographics:
“Edit, edit, edit. Your infographic tells a story, and like any story it benefits from a careful editing process. The end result should be a clear narrative that flows logically from beginning to end.”
So if you were starting to think this infographic stuff has little to do with writers and editors, think again!
Any successful marketing communications should follow a simple three-step process: entertain first, engage second and educate (or sell) last. Done right, infographics can do all of that, becoming a universal language for telling a story with one look.
But that doesn’t mean that clarifying the purpose, researching the content and operationalizing the concept won’t require a good writer/editor.
I liked this infographic on renewable energy by Carrington College which illustrates using a lot more text, but still in a fun, colorful way. Just like the visual.ly one above, they provide the code to make it easy to share/embed their infographic on your own site (And, that’s a good tip for encouraging your constituents to share too.)
[Via: Carrington College's Renewable Energy Degree Program]
Need more convincing to give infographics a try?
The status quo approach can be a difficult life preserver to sacrifice when one is afloat in a vast, cold ocean, unsure of a new tactic.
Consider that according to Customer Magnetism an internet marketing agency, high quality infographics are 30 times more likely to be read than text articles. Social media experts will tell you that infographics in websites are way more likely to be shared than text. The growing popularity of visual content platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram pretty much confirms that people crave eye candy.
While I know better than to concur with the seemingly popular notion that no one reads anything anymore, I’d have to put on a pair of coke-bottle-thick, rose-colored glasses to believe that people will read everything we put out.
Where to start
Lest you think as a mere writer that you’d have to employ a new graphics team to use infographics, there’s plenty of inspiration on the web as well as plenty of tools for creating your own infographics.
Marketingprofs.com suggests the following for your toolkit:
Many Eyes – builds infographics based on your data, or on public datasets.
HoHli – produces charts with the flexibility to customize their look and feel.
Wordle – word cloud generator. You can see an example from yours truly on the about page of this very blog.
The web is also a great place to find tips on creating the best infographics.
But before you go there, you should begin the process with a rough outline of what you want to present. Infographics should answer questions, provide compelling data, or demystify a process. And while an infographic can poke fun, the content must be researched and fact-checked. Not to mention, that you need to know your goal–which should not be simply to produce something cool.
So, that’s what I’ve learned about infographics. My next step is to gain more experience. Let me know what you’ve tried and especially any inspiring examples you create or come upon.
I’ll report back on my progress in a future blog.
I don’t know about you, but giving my audiences and me a chance to pull over to enjoy a scenic overlook sounds pretty good right about now.