Big data is big business these days, and many companies are relying on it in order to get a leg up on their competition. Data can help a company streamline their entire marketing effort and make sure that they are pointing their advertising cannons in the right directions.
However, what happens when data is the marketing effort? Where the best way to get your message across is with numbers? Statistics are dry and boring, whereas marketing is supposed to be dynamic and interesting – so how do you reconcile these two seemingly opposed variables?
The answer is with infographics.
Infographics take the dry, stodgy porridge oats of raw data, and then adds the warm milk and honey of eye-catching graphics and storytelling to create something entirely more appetising.
Painful analogies aside, infographics are a brilliant way to take your reams of complex data and compress it down into a single image with an easy-to-understand, take-home message. Think of them like the final lines of an academic piece, but in the form of a poster.
There are lots of tools available (outside of your computer’s office package) that can help you craft your infographic, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Before we take digital pen to virtual paper, let’s get to the basics of creating an infographic with five tips to getting started.
#1 Data Gathering
Time to burrow into those excel files and PDFs and start sorting through the mess of raw data. Whilst it is tempting to flick straight to the charts and tables, you will likely only start getting to the full picture by reading everything. You will also need to look outside of the data itself and check sources, validity and reliability, and lots of other factors.
After all, you don’t want your infographic to be built on erroneous foundations. Make sure the facts support the story.
If you miss something, you can bet your bottom dollar that some internet clever-clogs will find it and comment on it. The internet is full of very clever people, so don’t think that you can join up the dots willy-nilly, or just read the highlights and get away with it.
#2 Find the Narrative
Data tells a story, and it is up to you to find it. Not create it, mind you, but find it.
What is it you want to say with your infographic? Do you want to show that your business has gradually changed over time? Do you want to show improvement or consistency? Do you want to show that there is a problem in the world that your company intends to solve?
You need to be thinking about this all the time, and then looking for how you can use the data at hand to weave a narrative that builds up to the inescapable conclusion that your business is the best one to achieve this goal.
#3 Reality Check
Now is the time to put the brakes on before you get too carried away.
You need to look at the story you are trying to tell, and honestly establish whether the facts support it or not. Do not try and twist the data, or cherry pick only the facts that make you look good, as any data scientist worth their salt can spot this a mile off and you will be called on it. Then you can look forward to the unenviable task of trying to shed the reputation of a liar or manipulator.
You may find that you cannot tell the story that you initially wanted to tell, and have to start again from scratch (sometimes more than once) to find a different one.
Data doesn’t lie, and neither should you.
#4 Start Assembling the Infographic.
Find that one heroic piece of data. This piece is your punchline, the one that is going to hammer home the point you want to make. Once you have this piece of data you can use the rest to build towards it.
Now you can make a rough draft of how you want the infographic to appear. Choose a visual style and create your layout. Decide if you want to use pie charts (these are a dirty word in the world of research, but the general public loves them) or bar charts, tables, pictures, percentages or ratios etc.
Once you have everything laid out how you want it and you’re happy with it, you can move onto the next stage.
#5 Test and Retest
Once you have your rough draft you want to show it to as many people as possible, especially those who have not had any experience with the data themselves. Make sure that the entire thing is clear and understandable and that the layout and design is appealing.
Remember that an infographic is typically aimed at laypeople, rather than data experts, so make sure that it is laypeople you are getting feedback from. It’s no good releasing the thing and only then realising that it only makes sense to experienced statisticians.
Only now are you ready to create the finished infographic. Don’t forget to test again with the completed article with different people.