Infographics that influence – and why they do

Infographics, as we’ve previously written about, are a wonderful way to convey complex information in an accessible way – when correctly used. In this post I’ll give a couple of examples of good design and a couple of pointers for when you create your own.

Three “classic” examples of infographics

Napoleon's invasion attempt - Charles Minard

Napoleon’s invasion attempt of Russia, by Charles Minard. The brown path is the army advancing and the black path is the army retreating.
(image via Wikipedia)

One of the top infographics out there is Charles Minard’s 1869 illustration of Napoleon’s catastrophic 1812 invasion attempt of Russia.

It’s a basic flow map where the size of the invading army is shown as the width of its path across the map from the Niémen river to Moscow and back. The return path is also coupled with a graph of the temperature, showing in all too clear detail how the beaten and hungry army slowly succumbed to extreme sub-zero temperatures. The one alternative take of this I can come up with is removing the temperature graph and having the return trip in varying shades of blue – representing the temperature drop.

It’s a world of knowledge in a very simple design, needing only a small caption for understanding.

Kai Krause - The true size of Africa

The true size of Africa by Kai Krause both catches the eye and conveys the message instantaneously. Adding loads of complementary information for the ones who want to dig deeper. (Public Domain by CC)

Another, more modern, classic is Kai Krause’s The True Size Of Africa, showing just that – the size of the African continent as compared to the world’s largest countries.

The focal image can stand on its own, it doesn’t even really need the headline to make people understand it, but for educational purposes it’s accompanied by tables of data and a short text about the reasons for the creation of the infographic.

A stunning visualization that puts the world in perspective.

Facebook timeline

A Facebook timeline showing the top activity of 2012.

Lastly, an example that’s not going to the history books as a shining example of splendid infographical design, but probably for being the world’s most common as around a billion people use it more or less regularly, is the Facebook Timeline.

Maybe not one that many would say is an infographic at first glance, but still has the infographic elements of a visual and contextual display of information. In this case it features highlights of a person or organisation’s life, laid out on an timeline where you can drill down from the year-overview’s collection of top posts to all posts for individual months – yes, infographics can be interactive too!

So, while not so visually exciting the Facebook Timeline still is a fairly good example of how to design for sorting large amounts of continuous information for easy access.

For more inspiration you can  visit the infographics site Information is Beautiful which collects examples of stunning and insightful data vizualisations.

The advice

When creating your own infographics, the most important thing I can say is this:

Keep it simple and clean.

Just as with most other things in information handling it’s easier to reach your audience if you’re concise. This applies to both the message and the design, by the way, so the mission is to come up with the maximal yield of a minimal design. You want the information to be clear from the proverbial mile away, pulling people into the message.

Two questions to ask yourself while planning the visual

1. Does the information I want to present benefit from being compressed into one visual?

If there’s just too much to say, it might be better to go back to the information selection cycle, trimming away the fat, or doing more than one visual. Remember The true size of Africa? There are five extra comparison images with among other Europe and the sub-continent of India are attached for that extra info.

2. Could the same thing be said without all the boxes and arrows?

If there is there a cleaner, less cluttered visual to be used – use it! The extra time spent on removing superfluous graphical information is the difference between an okay infograph and one that goes viral.

Is there anything you’d like to add? Hit me in the comments below!