Infographics, according to Wikipedia, are: “Graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly. They can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends.”

So, is visual information really much more effective than written information? Absolutely! Some studies have noted that a person typically retains only 10-20% of written or spoken information in long-term memory while almost 65% of visual. And did you know that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual? Our brains are wired to almost instantly grasp relationships between objects with minimal effort.

Almost every business and industry seems to be jumping on the infographics bandwagon. And as with any new method, there are good outcomes as well as bad. For an infographic to hit the mark it must be simple and understandable. After having created some infographics here at RTi for our clients, as well as studying other examples, we’ve come up with a few informal rules.

Just because it’s presented pictorially, doesn’t mean it’s easy to understand.

An infographic should be understandable without much head-scratching and scrutiny. If you have to examine every detail and ask “What is this?” or “Why is this here?”, then the infographic is not doing its intended job.

Don’t boggle the reader’s mind with page after page of infographics.
Give them a break with some typical charts, tables, and text – these still tell a story.

When using an infographic (or two), some of the images should be repeated within the rest of the document to create a “theme” and tie everything together. For instance, if you use silhouettes as figures in an infographic, repeat the silhouettes, or use similar silhouettes on other pages. Or the color scheme of the infographic can become the scheme of the entire document (or vice versa). The infographic should not markedly stand out as something different from the rest of the document.

Decide what data is relevant to show in an infographic.
Brainstorm with others to come up with the best way to present the data.

Be sure to include all the data necessary to make the infographic meaningful. Think about the infographic as a one page communication vehicle for all the critical information you want to convey. This is your “elevator speech” in pictures so it has to be crystal clear and completely relevant.

Here are a few suggestions on creating an easy to understand infographic: Make sure your shapes, colors, or lines are labeled so the reader knows what the infographic is about. Be consistent in use of line, color and shape. If you use combinations of dashed lines, thick lines and colored lines, you need to explain why. Don’t make the reader work too hard to understand the visualization. Include all the information necessary to understanding the infographic, i.e., labels or legends.

Don’t use color for the sake of color. Color should add meaning, not distract.

And it goes without saying that if you use a color for one thing, always use the same color for that thing, unless there’s a good reason not to. Certain colors denote certain emotions. So one should also be prudent in the use of red as that is a color that denotes negativity or danger, unless, of course, that’s exactly what you want. Green, on the other hand, means “go” and “yes”.

Do not exaggerate data. Make sure object sizes make sense relative to one another.

It’s very easy to distort what the data has to say by being too exuberant with images. If one set of data is 50% and another is 100% and you want to graphically display these numbers, make sure that the image or picture you use for 100% is exactly two times the size of the 50% image. Don’t say one thing with your numbers and another with size.

In the end, you want your infographic to tell your story quickly and easily. If your audience “gets” the point without much scrutinizing and deliberating, then the infographic is a success.