3 Best Practice Tips For Data Visualisation

Infographics are, depending on who you speak to, all the rage or an abomination against analysis.

However, they are a trend that’s here to stay – and I’m going to share the three best practice tips that I’ve learnt for creating smart, impactive, graphics which engage and motivate your audience.

Muslim headdress infographicTip One: Story Telling

Infographics exist to communicate data in an appealing way – because very few people like columns of numbers (and a good infographic will light up different areas of the brain than figures do, helping the message to stick).

Good infographics convey information.  Great infographics tell a whole story.

Take the example to the left (which, unfortunately, I don’t know the copyright for – if you do, please let me know and I’ll attribute accordingly).

The use of a photograph is quite unusual for an infographic, but the storytelling is immense.

We have a face to put to the data.

And we have instant understanding of what the data actually represents.

No dry opinion polls.

No abstract numbers.

This infographic tells a story of culture, of attitude, of real people.

It’s brilliant.  Simple as that.

Tip Two: SimplificationGoals scored by body part

Data is complicated by its very nature.

Percentages, proportions, lists of numbers.

They’re not very interesting and, to most people, not very engaging either.

Infographics offer us the opportunity to change all of that.

Take football.  Which I am thoroughly bored by, I have to admit.

But it’s a sport that loves statistics.

Who scored most.  Who beat who and where.  Which player is statistically the strongest right foot.


But take a look at this infographic (found on the On Goals Scored website).

Wonderfully simple and fairly engaging (even to a football dunce like myself), this graphic shows that Dzeko is probably the most rounded all body player – suggesting that if he’s in the box, you need to worry about all of him (Rooney, meanwhile, can be foiled by getting the way of his right boot).

If you want some properly mind-bending data, take the UK’s Government’s spending.

I wouldn’t even dare approach the tomes of tables that this undoubtedly takes up.  However, the Guardian newspaper actually did a very good job of highlighting and simplifying this for us:

UK Government Spending

OK so it’s still an eyeful – but what would you rather look at – figures or coloured balls?

Tip Three: Illumination

Statistics on their own don’t illuminate anyone other than those with a head for statistics.

Pictures, on the other hand, allow our brains to compare size, colour, placement etc to help us again understanding.

Additionally, because we’re comparing things on a visual level, we’re better able to explore the data, helping us to make links and develop new understanding of the message that it’s communicating.

It’s amazing what can come out of this visual exploration.  Just take a look at this infographic showing the most polluting countries in the world:


It’s incredibly illuminating to glance at complex data and see that Brazil, South Africa and Italy all have roughly the same sized splodges.

And what do we do with this illumination? Investigate further.

Good infographics supply.  Great ones provoke exploration and investigation.

Storytelling.  Simplification.  Illumination.

Good infographics just show data in pretty pictures.

The best ones, and I’ve tried to pick just a couple of examples above, provoke curiosity, intrigue, comparison and enlightenment.

My feeling is that the best infographics are yet to come.  It’s still a relatively new discipline but, with the rise of the visual internet, is going to be one that becomes increasingly important in the next few years.

How do YOU use infographics in your brand or organisation?  What best practice tips would you contribute?  Or what about pitfalls to avoid?  I’d love to learn from your experiences!

For more on data visualisation, I can recommend this BBC News segment for 7 minutes of decent coverage and analysis.

Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.

These tips were learnt at a Data Visualisation presentation organised by West Sussex County Council and Sussex Police.  I can’t take any credit for coming up with any of them!

The featured image comes from Intersection Consulting over on Flickr.


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