Scientific advisers condemn a “Stalinist” censor attemptThe Guardian, May 2020
UK government scientific advisers are furious at what they see as an attempt to censor their advice on government proposals during the Covid-19 lockdown by heavily redacting an official report before it was released to the public.
Sometimes heavily redacted documents are the meagre result of months and years of legal procedures. Carefully hiding all significant words on the page does a good job protecting the content from the document readers.
The same technique can be used for a quite different result: to carefully reveal the essence of your content. You can hide a lot of the words from your message behind graphics and labels, and use infographics instead.
Infographics are a powerful tool, as they deliver your story in a different way to your prospective customers. However, creating infographics is a challenge as it requires different skills and experience: understanding your customers, product and business knowledge, copywriting, marketing, design, and illustration.
Here are three steps to help you create your first infographic step by step, by using these simple tools:
- Express urgency and provoke curiosity using simple charts
- Show the context of a problem by using maps
- Connecting it all together
Bonus: The secret power of an infographic
1. Express urgency and provoke curiosity using simple charts
Why is the commute duration the main cause for an employee to leave your company? According to the Paris Workplace 2018 study, 49% of people working in the Paris region find their daily home-office commute “unpleasant” (SFL/Ifop). Their dissatisfaction ramps up beyond one hour of commute every day. Only 37% of those over the one-hour commute level continue to project themselves in the current company.
The time defines the urgency of an issue. Your product solves a problem, but if your prospects do not feel an urgency, they will wait instead of acting. To start an infographic in the right direction, use time-related information to introduce your topic.
How to do that? The easiest is to show a line or bars representing a quantity changing in time. Use a spreadsheet tool such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets and create a 2-column table. Then, create a chart to show the quantity evolution, with the time on the horizontal axis.
A subtle hint: choose one colour for this graphic (blue) and use it in all the infographic’s sections. when presenting problem or context-related information.
If the chart doesn’t produce the question “why?” in the reader’s mind, you need to simplify it, change the chart type, to push forward the presented cause. If that proves difficult, add a second, divergent chart, using the same time axis.
Charts are a particularly useful way to express urgency and attract curiosity, but they need a context to show the topic’s importance.
2. Show the context of a problem by using maps
What is the best world map for a Russian? What about an Australian? Using a map is a quite easy method to show the importance of the topic’s context for the target audience.
However, use a map which is familiar to them to show that you have studied the issue from their point of view. The most common world maps are focused on Europe. Use the best regional scale and focus the map to the most appropriate region for your audience.
The commute duration evolution (table created at the previous point) happens in the Paris regional context. We can look at the causes and effects of the commute durations at a larger scale, national or European.
Here is an example of a context map. Use Excel again to create a new table, this time by adding part-time work information for the European countries (source: OECD). Then, insert a map chart based on this second table’s data.
This is what you will see as a result:
To get more differentiated colour shades, group countries by levels:
– less than 10% of part-time work
– 10 to 20%
– 20 to 30%
– more than 30%
The two sections (graph and map) now show urgent information (commute durations), the regional context, and a possible solution (part-time work). Let’s connect them together using titles, subtitles, and blocks of text.
3. Connecting it all the sections together
How to make a train using an electric locomotive, two passenger cars, and a dining coach? Obviously, cars need to be attached to one another and to the locomotive. In the same way, you need to connect together the different sections to create your infographic.
But to do this, we must first select a layout. The most current ones are: suites, circles, and free graphics.
To create your infographic canvas use PowerPoint or another tool allowing custom page layouts (e.g. Balsamiq, Publisher, Adobe tools etc.). Select a horizontal, vertical, or square layout to fit your design.
Use visual and textual connectors to lead the reader on the infographic’s outline thread. They can be blocks of text where you give more details or develop arguments in short paragraphs. You can also use smaller graphics like arrows, backgrounds, and other shapes to indicate to the reader the path to follow.
For our example, select a vertical page layout to stack all the sections one by one. Connect the main title to the first chart using a subtitle. After the chart, use a text block to connect it to the context map. Add your conclusion and you are done. But aren’t you missing something?
The secret power of an infographic is the call to action
It is not enough to have these sections smoothly connected and nicely coloured. To achieve the infographic’s goal, we need to lead the reader to a conclusion and, most importantly, to the action they should do next. This is the secret power of an infographic.
The call to action can be a link to a product website, a phone number to call, or any other way to get the reader to your proposed solution. Without a call to action, the infographic is reduced to a visual presentation, nice indeed, and maybe interesting, but without any benefit for your product.
Isn’t this too basic—a chart, a map, and some labels?
Your infographic’s goal is not to make an exhibition at the Louvre. Its goal is to persuade the reader of the urgency and importance of the topic, then to make them act. Do not worry about its simplicity, it is often a strength for your message and not a disadvantage.
How about a complete example?
Let’s see how our example looks like after stacking the chart and the map with the different connectors, the conclusion, and our call to action:
Even if you keep it simple, if you lead the reader from section to section and convince them to take the proposed action, your infographic will have achieved its goal. There are a few things to keep in mind and traps to avoid, though.
Use few colours and sections to obtain a simple and clear infographic
Some practical advice to keep the simplicity and clarity of your presentation:
- use less than 3 colours in the infographic, one for the charts and the context maps, a second one for the conclusion
- do not use more than 5 colour shades in your maps
- avoid using more than 5 sections in your infographic, otherwise, it may become difficult to read and ignored by the readers
Where to use an infographic
Infographics are powerful tools that can be used in all your actions. Here are some real-life possibilities:
- Conference booth roll-up and fliers
- Printed brochure
- Brochure as PDF file available on your website
Selected parts of your infographics can be reused in your product documentation, for marketing and sales purposes:
- Product presentations
- Commercial proposals
- Company one-page prospect brochure
The infographic can also be used in your communication:
- Email attachment after a presentation to bring home a specific point
- Website news articles
- Social media posts (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.)
Use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to create simple charts and maps based on your data. Colours are important, as they link the problem and the solution in your reader’s mind.
Design your infographic page using PowerPoint, Balsamiq, or other design and prototype tool. Assemble your infographic’s sections:
- titles and subtitles
- text connectors
- visual connectors
- information panels
Work with a designer to perfect your illustration before publication. Reuse the infographic in as many marketing and sales actions you can to send a consistent message and get the most results. Verify that the prospects are taking the proposed action, and adjust the infographic as needed to improve it.
Think as an agent protecting your product presentations and pass a black marker to hide your content. But do this to better reveal your arguments. Forget the text, project yourself in your audience’s context and use infographics to replace the hidden words. And don’t forget the secret, the next action your prospects need to do to make a step towards your proposed solution.
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