How to Choose Visuals for Your Infographic

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

When you begin an infographic assignment, you usually start by meeting with the client, and then gathered your data. Sometimes, you may already have a brilliant idea for a theme. Be careful, though — creating a theme should take up only about five percent of your creative power.

Making it work with your information will be another 91 percent. (That leaves about three percent for hand-wringing and one percent for excuse-making when you have to start over.) Your brilliant ideas may not sit well with those that are waiting for you to produce. To please a client, an editor, or an art director, you may need a backup plan.

Have five good ideas for a theme. It helps to put your big idea down on paper, and then physically move it aside. Then brainstorm another four ideas. Some might be better than your original thought. Some might be boring to you but exactly what your client wants.

Or, maybe you got it right the first time, and your initial sketch does become the final theme. Either way, the brainstorming process really helps stimulate creativity. Getting your first idea out of the way — literally and figuratively — gives you the space to generate new ideas.

You are setting the tone for this graphic. Don’t think of anything as a bad idea. Only think in terms of better ideas, and ultimately, the best.

Doing rough sketches of your graphics is a powerful way to organize your information and make sure that your graphic is well thought-out. It can also help you generate ideas for a theme. You can consider a wireframe or opt for any other organizational scheme.

Drawing nothing more than boxes on a sheet of paper can help you map out an infographic and drum up ideas for a theme. Here’s one way to use a sketch to lead you to your visual theme:

  1. Organize information by including the following items in roughly this order:

    • Branding logo or company name, if applicable

    • Headline

    • Major point, with a chart to show statistics

    • Major point breakdown; perhaps another chart to illuminate an interesting subtopic

    • Outlook for future, and any additional charts

    • Branding logo, if it works better here than at the top

  2. Now ask yourself some questions about your topic:

    • Does your subject and storyline have something in common? A famous song? Sporting event? Holiday? Saying? Cliché? Nursery rhyme? It doesn’t have to be a perfect fit, but thinking of these links can spur creativity.

    • Does your storyline have a logo or iconic symbol associated with it? For instance, breast cancer research uses a pink ribbon to identify the cause. Can you implement that in your design?

    • Does your storyline have a pop culture connotation? If your infographic is about the top-grossing movies of the year, you might tie in movie reels, popcorn, or an Oscar statuette.

    • Can you design around a headline? Sometimes a catchy headline will allow you to play out a theme by simply breaking it down. For instance, “A Stitch in Time” could be used as a theme in a graphic about wedding gown designers.

  3. Sketch out the basic theme to see how the information from Step 1 fits into the theme from beginning to end.

    At this point, you may really be sketching your artistic elements. They’ll still be very rough, but doing some actual drawing will help you make sure that your artistic theme is clear and supports the main idea of your infographic.

This figure is a piece of an infographic with a personal finance theme showing how Americans are trying to get their finances back into shape. To represent the American people, a stylized Uncle Sam is used in a gym training scenario to illustrate multiple financial statistics. For instance, Uncle Sam’s jump rope is a fever line chart that tracks revolving debt and bankruptcy filings.

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Ever shut your eyes to concentrate and come up with an idea only to get zilch? Thanks to the Internet, inspiration can come with a few keystrokes. For a quick kick in the creative behind, take a look at online photo sites such as Shutterstock or Depositphotos. You can search by theme and get a wealth of new ideas to inspire you.

Your graphics should reflect the information, not the other way around. The information is the most important thing here, so visuals should come second. Many times, a great artistic idea may not work with the information, or may even distract from it. If that happens to you, throw out that idea and start again, perhaps saving it for a future project.