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It takes a diverse set of skills to create a good infographic and unless you’re a renaissance person, you might not have all of them. Aside from design, market research, number crunching, etc. may come in handy. So use all available resources.
First, define the inherent characteristics of the data set you want to present. These will determine the way in which the data should be presented visually. Do the data represent a process? A comparison? A trend? Are the data geographic? Whatever the data characteristics are, think about the structure first. Like a web site, the visuals shouldn’t get in the way of the story you want to tell and the information you want to present. So take some graph paper, a legal pad or the napkin left over from lunch and do a rough sketch of what you want your graphic to look like. You’ll be amazed at how many problems you can solve at this point with a pencil and paper.
Then look for a metaphor to help the viewer relate to something familiar. Maybe the imaginary National Association of Transfat Manufacturers from our last post would use unclogged plumbing pipes as a metaphor for the clean arteries and veins you get from having a cup of hydrogenated vegetable shortening with every meal.
How do you transfer all of the numbers and information in your data set to a visual metaphor? For me, the M-word is math. If, like me, you’re math challenged, chances are that you know someone who isn’t, and knows how to use Excel® or another spreadsheet program. It makes slicing and dicing data easy, and you (or your non-challenged associate) can create basic charts and graphs that will make visualizing your final infographic easier.
At some point you’ll have to put the pedal to the metal and actually produce your infographic. So what tools do you use?
If you’re a designer, the choices are obvious- Adobe® Illustrator® or Adobe® Photoshop® software. Illustrator uses vector graphics, which makes it easy to design images and text in any size relatively quickly. It can also generate charts and graphs from data you input directly into the program or import data from Excel. You can also use Photoshop, but it’s a little more awkward to handle text in the program and the files can get massive. I create the originals in Illustrator and import them into Photoshop for effects and touchups that can’t be done in Illustrator.
What if You’re Not a Designer? A program just about everyone’s familiar with is PowerPoint®. It’s easy, you can import Excel data, use clip art from paid and free sites and use the included art and templates to create a look that you want. You don’t have to stick to the default screen page size either – you can create pages in any size you want and export your final product to a jpeg to post online or insert into a document.
There are a bunch of online tools you can use; some free, some paid. They offer a wide variety of capabilities and design options, and most offer data import.
You can either create your own look or use Piktochart themes. The free account comes with the use of 6 templates and branded info graphics. The premium account provides access to 110 themes.
easel.ly is currently in beta, but with 343,401 graphics created it’s pretty well tested. It has an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface, dozens of themes and art objects.
Of course Google had to get into the act. If you need interactive (or not) data visualizations on your web site, this might be your answer. You have to load chart libraries, list the data that you want to use, and customize your chart. It’s free, but some familiarity with html will help.
visual.ly offers many of the same tools to create infographics and data visualizations as some of the other online tools, but it also serves as a source of existing infographics and over 35,000 designers, journalists and illustrators who can do your data analysis for you for a fee. Prices vary.
Infogr.am offers more than 30 chart types that are helpful in creating infographics. You can enter your data into an online spreadsheet or import Excel files. You can download your chart in .png or pdf format to share, or embed the code in your web site.
If you want to create a data visualization easily and quickly, this might be the place for you. You can either upload your own data set or choose from over 17,000 pages of datasets on the site, pick the type of visualization you want to use, and share it. From IBM.
So now there are no excuses for having charts or infographics that look like they were created on graph paper with a ruler and protractor. If you have a story to tell, or data to explain, there are myriad resources to help you get your information to your audience in an effective way.