Infographics 101: Using Pictures to Communicate and Connect With Your Audiences
If you’ve read a newspaper or blog, flipped through a magazine, or used social media recently, you’ve likely come across infographics—those self-contained pictorials that tell you the gist of a story or concept at a glance.
But what is their purpose? Are infographics simply eye candy that publishers and brand journalists use to gloss up their content, or do they aim to fulfill a greater business communication objective?
What Are Infographics?
You’ve probably heard the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words,” a manifesto that speaks to the value and efficiency of visual communication.
An infographic (short for information graphic) is a type of picture that blends data with design, helping individuals and organizations concisely communicate messages to their audience (see Figure 1.1).
Figure 1.1. Anatomy of an infographic.
Infographics combine data with design to enable visual learning. This communication process helps deliver complex information in a way that is more quickly and easily understood.
More formally, an infographic is defined as a visualization of data or ideas that tries to convey complex information to an audience in a manner that can be quickly consumed and easily understood.
The process of developing and publishing infographics is called data visualization, information design, or information architecture.
From a business perspective, one definition of infographics resonates above the rest. British graphic designer, author, and information design theorist Nigel Holmes simply refers to them as “explanation graphics.”
As a marketer, business owner, or manager, you can boil down your communication goals to explaining things to your audience. Infographics can help you communicate the following:
- Thought leadership and product features and benefits to your prospects
- Business process and service options to your customers
- Ideas and policies to your staff
- Corporate philosophy and strategy to your investors
Infographics can help your organization more effectively explain important information to your internal and external stakeholders.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what infographics are, what are some ways you can implement them into your business communication mix?
First, it’s important to understand that infographics are not used solely for external communication. They are a great medium for delivering marketing messages or insights to consumers and prospects, but they are equally effective when used to enhance internal communication.
Before you figure out how you can start using infographics, it helps to understand the nature of the information you are trying to communicate.
Business information can be divided into the following groups:
- Statistics—metrics such as sales, revenue, market research, surveys
- Process—manufacturing, customer service, sales funnel, lead generation, supply chain
- Ideas—concepts, theories, thought leadership, ideology
- Chronology—history, order of events, timelines, schedules
- Geography—locations, metrics by region
- Anatomy—ingredients, components, lists
- Hierarchy—organizational structure, needs assessment
- Relationships—internal, external, people, products/services
- Personality—brand humanization, organizational culture
Many people are familiar with statistics being represented as infographics because of the popularity of data visualization and its use in traditional media. However, business owners, marketers, and managers tend to overlook the use of infographics to communicate other types of information.
The next section delves into information categories in more detail. You will begin to see how infographics can effectively represent different types of business data and how they can become a powerful part of your organization’s communication strategy.
Today, infographics can be used by a wide variety of individuals and organizations to enhance their communication. “Solopreneurs,” small businesses, nonprofits, and large corporations can all find ways to use infographics to make their information more interesting and accessible to their target audiences.
You can find infographics published in traditional media such as newspapers and magazines and across digital channels, where social media has helped fuel an explosion in their popularity.
To the casual observer, it would appear that infographics are a recent phenomenon that has been growing in conjunction with the growth of the Internet. The reality is that we have been using icons, graphics, and pictures throughout history to tell stories, share information, and build knowledge, as shown in Figure 1.2.
A brief history of infographics.
As we entered the new millennium the publishing of infographics became more democratized, and their use began to extend beyond academia and traditional media channels.
Today, in an era of information overload and shortened attention spans, organizations of all sizes are using infographics to quickly deliver information and understanding to internal and external audiences. Add the fact that social media fuels “shareability,” and everything points to infographics becoming one of the most effective forms of content for communicating information in the digital age. (Shareability is explained in greater detail later in this chapter.)