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Should I Use An Infographic to Tell a Data Story?

06/21/2019 by Tricia Aanderud Data Communication

It is challenging to keep everyone absorbed by your data. You’re faced with all kinds of challenges: poor data literacy, disinterest, and even a diminishing attention span. If you believe popular science, apparently most people have a smaller attention span than a goldfish.

Have you considered adding infographics to your data communications? This technique tells a data story in a visually exciting way that lets users digest the data at their pace.

What is an Infographic?

An infographic tells a story with images, data visualizations, and text. This technique has many strengths but I like it because it makes it so easy to grab audiences who have declining attention spans. Infographics allow you to condense vast amounts of data into bite-sized pieces. You can think of it as a combination of dashboards and data storytelling. These pieces tell a quick and clear story about a chosen subject.

Infographics can be used in advertising or shared on social media to draw attention to subjects. The visual nature of a well-designed infographic grabs a viewer’s attention. This method is considered more casual than other data presentation methods. It is a fun way to open a topic for more exploration.

However, you can use this technique internally as well! Perhaps you have an area of focus that you want to highlight. A customer service department might show the top 5 reasons that customers called in the past 30 days and highlight some key facts about the calls. This infographic could be shared with the engineering or product management teams to help them understand how they impact customers.

Understanding the Infographics Types

In his book, Infographics Powered by SAS®: Data Visualization Techniques for Business Reporting, Travis Murphy describes two infographics: artistic and business.

Artistic infographics have pictures and minimal text. You often find these infographics on a kitchen wall or a teenager’s bedroom ceiling. Consider posters that show the varieties of edible flowers or how the Ford Mustang has changed over the years. An artistic infographic is highly visual. You use your eyes to learn and compare what is similar and what is different.

The following infographic designed by Cathryn Lavery shows how the Batman logo changed over the years. It is curious how the logo has changed and yet remained the same.

 

Infographics for Quick Messages

In the following infographic, SAS explains the key features of SAS Viya. This infographic was used on social media and in their advertising leading up to SAS Global Forum.

While it has a business theme, the content is not focused on sharing statistics but on allowing the audience to explore the SAS Viya product features and usage.

The message in the infographic is quick – there are four main features of the product. The product is excellent for multiple analytics roles. Their message is this product is flexible and useful to several roles.

It uses the corporate themed colors to communicate the message and leads your eye down the page.

Business infographics are more structured than their artistic counterparts. These are more like web reports because they contain statistics and data visualizations. These infographics tell a story using the data.

Infographics Tell Data Stories

The following figure shows a business infographic. You can see how the pictures and graphics are more prevalent than the text. The vital statistics are used to enlighten the viewer with a short message.

Consider this infographic from SAS that helps you understand the data skills gap.

It tells a story about the issue and what is needed to solve the issue.

 

Infographics Lead Viewers on an Exploratory Journey

The following infographic from Robert Allison helps you understand Star Trek from a quantitative perspective. In this case, the artwork is the color blocks.

Notice that the infographic references the colors and fonts of the original television series. The fonts are the same used in the opening sequence. The colors are the same as those worn by the original 1960s crew members. Color sends such a strong message!

All infographics should have a takeaway, such as it’s dangerous to be a red-shirt crew member and Captain Kirk is much more than a human ladies man.

In this infographic, Falko Schulz used SAS Visual Analytics to tell the story of Mount Everest. He uses a variety of pictures, data objects, and text fields to guide you through the data. Your eyes glide over the data picking up little tidbits.

This infographic is a fantastic way to get people to the next question “If this activity is so dangerous, why are people doing it?”

 

Imagine if I had tried to give you this same information in a PowerPoint! While this topic is interesting (albeit morbid), consider if you would have sat through 25 slides with my analysis of the Himalaya expedition’s database or even thumbed through a PDF?

By using an infographic, your audience can explore the information to the desired level of detail. Perhaps it’s enough to learn that the descent is more dangerous than reaching the summit. Maybe you are surprised to learn that avalanches are more deadly than falling. When you view the route up the mountain, you can plainly see the climber’s path overlays a perfect spot for an avalanche. However, Falko, lets you discover that insight.

Tips for Creating Effective Infographics

Infographics will challenge your editing, design, and layout skills more than other data communication methods.

Keep these best practices in mind to be successful:

  • Determine the main message and the data facts that support that message. With limited space, each page element matters. Plus, users draw inference from how the shapes appear on the page. The larger the shape, the more significant the user presumes it to be.
  • Create a layout of the page elements on paper. You can use a paper and pen to jot down your ideas and pre-organize your facts. Consider what each element adds to the story and how it leads the user through the story.
  • Your graphic or web design skills are particularly useful in this exercise. If you have never had any training, consider reading up on design principles. There are many free courses available on the internet from such places as Udemy, Skillshare, and other like sites.
  • If you are creating the infographic in SAS Visual Analytics, use these helpful tips from Travis Murphy. If you are using BASE SAS, then use the process from Robert Allison.

Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt feels a little stiff; you will improve with practice.

Add infographics to your data communication mix when you want to communicate the information quickly and effectively engage the audience. Infographics allow your users to explore the data in an entertaining and leisurely pace. The technique gets the user to ask the next question while still having some essential takeaways.