Gimme some info with that graphic.

Holy cow, infographics are out of control. In theory, they’re a great idea – a way to help our customers understand complex information more simply. In reality, most infographics stink. They’re design-heavy and message-light.

Infographics-01Recently, I heard from a designer friend that she was asked to create a series of infographics for her company to use in its marketing. She was given a series of one-sentence key messages to work with. That’s it. No supporting data, no meat to put on the bones. My friend’s designs were beautiful. Does it surprise you to hear the marketing team didn’t like them? It shouldn’t. See, by not giving the right information, the marketers made the infographics all about design. Big mistake.

Infographics are about content strategy.

I want infographics that work hard for my clients’ business –  easy to understand, don’t give me eyestrain, balance info and graphic. Think about the human anatomy drawings in 10th grade science. We didn’t use the word at the time, but they were infographics. Main message “here’s where your guts are” delivered with an eye-catching drawing with labels on each organ. They didn’t try to be fancy, just educational. In the marketing biz we want better design than a 10th grade textbook but, where infographics are concerned, it’s too easy for design to flex its beautiful muscles and beat the message into submission.

Granted, sometimes you need more copy than fits in the infographic itself. In those cases, use supporting copy in proximity of the graphic, but don’t duplicate between the two. Use your infographic to make your main points – realize that our eyes are drawn to visuals first and copy second. But, for people who do read the copy, make it worth their while.

Content strategists and designers, get together, grab a white board and get back to basics:

Identify your audience (of course), but take it one step further. Understand what they’ll need from the infographic so your message is instantly credible. Decide whether your infographic should convey one-dimensional content (Top 5 coffee-producing countries) or multi-dimensional content (Top 5 coffee-producing countries and % of U.S. coffee import income from each.) Lead with your strongest data point and build a message hierarchy from there. Think about the fact that an infographic is intended to replace complex copy. And then decide if you’re representing a paragraph, or the entire Library of Congress.

Put it to work. Include a call to action in your infographic to give your customers a richer experience and give you a way to measure its effectiveness.

Support your brand. Remember that your infographic is part of your overall content strategy. It needs to look like you and sound like you. Use your colors, typography and voice to make sure your customers know who’s responsible for the dynamite content they’re seeing.

Know that all infographics are not created equal. Nor should they be used that way. An infographic for a full-page ad in a trade mag is a different animal than what you put on your website home page. Your delivery has to be more strategic than resizing the same graphic for different channels. Think about the space you have to work with, what the goal of the infographic is and the context in which your audience is viewing it. There’s a definite trend in long, vertical infographics to suit mobile device swipe behaviors. (Sure, we swipe. But do we want to swipe for so long we forget what we read at the top? Nope. I don’t think we do.)

Infographics aren’t going away. They’re an important part of turning written messages into the visual storytelling we’ve all embraced, for the most part because of social media. But, let’s not let infographics be the latest cool thing that’s overused and misunderstood. Think info. Think content strategy. Think about your customers.