Since about 65 per cent of us are visual learners, it’s no wonder high quality infographics are 30 times more likely to be read than text articles (according to customermagnetism). Visual content is also noted for boosting SEO performance and consistently appears as a “must have” on content strategy checklists.
If you have the budget or an in-house resource, it’s best to have a data visualization specialist create top-of-the-line visual content but this isn’t always possible. Fortunately, there is also a growing list of free or nominally priced online tools you can access to visually depict data and tell your story. Here are some I’ve discovered for creating infographics, as well as word clouds and graphic timelines.
DIY Infographic Creation Tools:
- Easel.ly – Provides drop-and-drag templates called “Vhemes,” which give you a framework for creating infographics that feature Venn diagrams and traditional graphs, as well as maps and pathways. You can easily customize them further by changing backgrounds/colours and inserting shapes, lines or icons from a range of categories (including people of varied demographics) or uploading your own images.
- Piktochart – Offers a choice of six free templates (with more available for an upgrade fee). You can customize your graphic by changing colors, themes, fonts or inserting/uploading icons/images. You can also create charts manually or by uploading CSV files.
- Infogr.am – Still in beta, this easy-to-use tool comes with six templates for creating your own infographic or standalone graphs. You can enhance it by editing data and text and uploading images. I find it stands apart with its incredible range of 14 adaptable graph formats, which include progress gauges, tree maps, and word clouds, as well as bar and other standard charts and tables. However, unlike some of the other tools, it lacks pre-fab icons.
- Visually – Offers a range of templates that enable you to create infographics but they must be based on Twitter or Facebook data. According to econsultancy.com, you can also order Visually infographics, which start from $1,495 and take at least 18 days to produce.
- Graphicriver – This tool is not free but offers a variety of intricately designed templates that you can purchase for a licence fee as low as $6.00 and then customize to meet your needs.
- Wordle – Generates “word clouds” from text that you provide. The words are sized according to how frequently they appear in the selected chunk of text, with the largest point size used for words that appear more frequently in a selected chunk of text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.
- Tagxedo – Similar to Wordle, this tool gives you more control on what specific shape your text forms, as well as its colour scheme, orientation or font style.
- Dipity – This tool enables you to easily create, share, embed and collaborate on developing a static or interactive timeline that can be integrated with video, audio, images, text, links, social media, location and time stamps. (An alternative, more sophisticated tool for creating multimedia timelines is Timeline JS. )
The work however starts long before you open the tool, when you….
- Decide the purpose of the infographic and what you want it to inspire the viewer to do.
- Identify an angle that speaks to people beyond your organization or client. Ideally, it should tell a story and try to answer a question (or questions) that someone, somewhere has likely asked or wants answered. (News hooks like human interest, novelty, drama, proximity or conflict might be a good place to start.)
- “Google” the web to source ideas and check for infographics with similar themes to ensure you create an original.
- Gather and validate stats, which may show: a sequence/process, relationships, before & after, comparisons, map…
- Clean, refine and cull the most compelling data points.
- Storyboard, sketch ideas and try out formats for graphs or images offline that you can bring to life online.
I know many designers cringe at the thought of over zealous “suits” and others creating abominable results (like early websites with mismatched “ransom note” text that blinked on and off). Fortunately, many of these tools have built-in features to keep you on the right design track but to play it safe:
- Keep text to a minimum by making your graphs and illustrations tell the story.
- Restrict your colour scheme to a maximum of three core colours, plus black but avoid white backgrounds.
- Keep it simple, by sticking to a core message and using a conservative number of elements that leaves the viewer with some blank spaces to rest their eyes.
- Limit yourself to two font types, if possible and use a type’s weight (bold or light), italics or colour to emphasize a point, instead of all capitals or underlined text.
- Draw the viewer in by setting illustrations/icons to move from left to right (or the direction your audience reads), versus featuring a graphic of a person/animal running or looking to the left side of the screen.
What tools have you used? How did you apply them to your business needs?
Note: In researching this post, the following sources were particularly useful and worth checking for more relevant insights:
- 10 Tools for Creating Infographics and Visualizations, Miranda.Rensch, seomoz, February 6, 2013
- How to make an infographic online: five essential free tools, Chris Lake, eConsultancy, October 22, 2012
- Infographics in het onderwijs, Curated by André Manssen.
- How to Create Good Infographics Quickly & Cheaply, Carrie Hill, Search Engine Watch, July 24, 2012
- Tips for Building a Shareable Infographic, Courtney Cox, Graphic Design blog, April 4, 2012
- The Dos and Don’ts of Infographic Design, Amy Balliet, Smashing Magazine, October 14, 2011