By Ahava Leibtag published March 28, 2012

5 Questions to Ask before Jumping on the Infographics Bandwagon

Are you just dying to create your own infographic? Seen five new ones in the past 15 minutes?  Think before you design. There’s a lot to consider about infographics, including purpose, relevancy, and the potential for ROI.

As our web becomes even more image-driven, eye-catching and easy-to-digest content is here to stay. While infographics are a great format for translating data into easily shareable, fun images, you have to have a clear purpose and plan in mind before you start.

What is an infographic?

Traditionally, information graphics, or infographics, are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge, translated into an appealing illustration. These graphics can present complex information quickly and clearly, and can be integrated into many different forums, including signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and educational materials.

I’ve watched the infographic craze grow (and at this point spin seemingly out of control), and many times I wonder if the designers of the infographic really understood what they were trying to communicate. Their purpose can sometimes be confusing. Are they meant to educate? Brand the company that produced them? Create shareable content that in some way is valuable? If you can’t tell what their purpose is by looking at them, then they’re pointless and, therefore, the opposite of valuable, which is what content is always supposed to be.

Many of the infographics I’ve seen are not truly graphic visual representations of information or data. Rather they are colorful posters, or illustrated signs. I’m not whining here for no reason, or because I feel passionately that we must respect the word infographic. I think that content types exist because different types of information are best displayed, shared, and viewed in various formats. Infographics just aren’t always the best way to approach your goals — no matter how hot they are.

Of course, there are certainly some great infographics out there that are capturing the true value of this medium, and some situations where they make the perfect addition to a content campaign.

Infographic or chart: Where the differences lie

There are quite a few infographics I’ve seen that I’ve enjoyed, and some that have made me scratch my head. For example, Copyblogger recently released what I would call a poster about 15 Grammar Goofs that Make You Look Silly. It’s a great poster, and the visual design does a great job of explaining what’s correct grammar and what’s not. Yet, it’s not a true infographic in that it doesn’t take a complex data set and translate it into an easily understood picture. Rather, it’s a helpful branding piece of content marketing from Copyblogger. So in cases like this, don’t call it an infographic — call it a poster about 15 grammar goofs.

Content Marketing Institute jumped on this bandwagon as well. Yet, its infographic, I would argue, is truly an infographic in both name and purpose. A Brief History of Content Marketing educates the reader about content marketing, shows a development timeline, and also serves the additional goal of publicizing Content Marketing World 2012.

Are you prepared to create an infographic?

If you think an infographic might suit your content goals, consider the following beforehand:

1. Do you have something relevant to add to the conversation? If you’re creating an infographic just to be like the popular kids, you may be wasting your time. People care, share, and reuse valuable content in any format, and the additional work and research it takes to create an infographic might not be worth it for your purposes. Even if it looks super cool, if it doesn’t add value to their lives, they’ll pin it somewhere and forget about it.

On the flip side, if you have a complex piece of data that could use a great visual representation, go for it. For example, the infographic, “How Social Sites Make Money”, is a true infographic. It takes a complicated data set and uses visual cues to educate us on how social media sites make a profit. However, “How to Train Employees to Use Social Media,” is definitely NOT an infographic. It’s a how-to that would be better in a slide format, or even as a white paper.

2. Do you have a clear call to action? This is a great chart about How to Do Keyword Research, but I have no idea who Promodo is, or what they want me to do with the chart once I’m done using it. If you’re going to invest your resources in building valuable infographics, make sure there’s a clear call to action.

For example, the history of content marketing is an interesting topic, no doubt, but the CMI infographic I mentioned above was created with a clear purpose beyond simple education — it’s an informational tool that does double duty by publicizing an upcoming conference.

3. Can you post it in more than one place? One of the reasons infographics and charts are so hot right now is because of Pinterest, the social media site where you can “pin” interesting content on boards that you create, name, and organize. Others can “repin” your content, making the content feel like it’s a valuable commodity that you own.

If you intend to touch on several important, interrelated topics, it’s worth it to create an infographic because people might pin it on their many, different boards, helping you to distribute your content across the web. If it’s too general or narrowly focused — for example, a graphic on the many uses of paper — it might be difficult for it to get enough traction and spread (maybe Dwight Schrute, from “The Office” would pin it to the Dunder Mifflin board, but something tells me he’s not quite the influencer type you want or need).

4. Do you have a good designer? This is probably the most overlooked consideration with infographics: Some of them just look bad. They lack visual appeal and flow, and the designs are difficult to understand. There’s no point in creating something ugly to add to a discussion. Again, people may pin or share a mediocre infographic, but you’ll get more bang for your buck if you find an experienced designer who can add to the conversation by displaying your information in innovative and appealing ways.

5. Does it fit into your branding? If you’re a B2B marketer and you want to create an infographic that adds value and promotes your brand, make sure the content makes sense coming from you. Based on my areas of expertise, I could create an infographic on healthcare and social media, but if I created an infographic on fashion and social media — things I don’t know much about — publishing an infographic would create dissonance in my online persona and brand.

So are you on the infographic bandwagon? I’m interested in hearing your advice and stories.

Author: Ahava Leibtag

Based in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Ahava Leibtag is a Web content strategist and writer. She leads AHA Media Group, a Web and content consulting firm, and authors the blog Online it ALL Matters. She thinks 60 words is way too few to communicate why she’s interesting. You can connect with Ahava on Twitter at @ahaval.

Other posts by Ahava Leibtag

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  • predsicker

    Great article Ahava! Thanks for putting this together. 

    While I agree with you for the most part, I disagree with your assessment regarding the two infographics you categorized as chart/slide – that they don’t qualify to be called infographics.I understand the hard definition of an infographic, but let’s face it: In this short-attention span Internet environment that we’re working in, it has become increasingly important to draw eyeballs to your content by making it more visually appealing.

    Sure, if you can explain a difficult concept (e.g. the DC Metro System) using an infographic – more power to you. But I don’t see that this kind of content excludes those trying to explain simpler concepts either. What if you’re in a business that is not that complicated e.g. a wedding planner – are we saying that you cannot add infographics to your content mix?Again the ‘traditional’ definition for infographic is understood, but let’s not forget that in the end it’s the audience/consumer that decides what that data should look like. Hence white papers have evolved from being boring, jargon-laced, 32-page documents to being short (6-10 pages), compelling and visually interesting pieces of content. 

    I think every industry and every brand should experiment with infographics (illustrating both simple and complex ideas) and let their audience be the judge as to whether it provides value or not. Thoughts?

  • Ahava

    I agree with your final point, but I don’t disagree with my above point about calling them infographics. Maybe that’s just like Kleenex and tissues, but I think it’s important to provoke a discussion around language, vocabulary and how we use words. If language is generative of ideas (and I would argue it most certainly is), then we need to “brand” and label our content properly to respect content types.  But it’s a semantic argument–again the point of the article is about creating great content and thinking about how to best deliver your message.

    • Greg Boser

      The disconnect in this conversation is that the definition you used to support your claim that Brian’s IG was really a poster doesn’t support your opinion.

      “Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge.”

      I’m pretty sure that an illustration explaining common grammatical errors qualifies as  a “visual representation of knowledge”.

  • Mandy Kilinskis

    Many of the infographics I’ve seen are not truly graphic visual representations of information or data. Rather they are colorful posters, or illustrated signs.”

    YES. The word “infographic” has been beaten to death, revived, and tossed all over the Internet. I love colorful pictures as much as the next person (and it’s fun to have pictures to accompany text), but if it’s not truly an infographic, don’t call it that! 

    Our company is getting ready to dive into infographics and/or awesome colorful posters. We’re just making sure that we have some great data to offer first!

  • Brian Clark

    That grammar poster was the most successful piece of content in Copyblogger history, and we’ve had our share. So I’ll take it. :)

    But I agree with you. That’s why we didn’t put “infographic” in the title this time (arguably, the graphic before about content creation was a poster as well, but people loved it just the same).

    Point is, graphical content is working really well these days. So, rule number one (as always) is to decide what type of graphical content your audience will best respond to. It’s about them, not rigid definitions among marketers.

    • ahaval

      Hi Brian! I’m a huge fan of yours so thanks for taking the time to comment. I completely agree that visual content done well can be a huge win, but the points I made above speak to creating visual content that will do just that. As you always say, content development has to make business sense. As for the rigid definition, I’m all for breaking the rules, but I think for content types it’s important to have distinctions. I know as a writer I can be overprotective of the English language, but in this case I think it’s valid. I do hope you turn that 15 goof piece into a real poster. Imagine how many high school students will be less bored AND learn something of value?

  • Carl Friesen

    USA Today has had some great examples of simple infographics over the years; Harper’s Magazine likewise does well with more complex productions. I’m just in awe of anyone who can do this well. I do words, but there are people who have the ability to tell a complex story with just a simple graphic. It’s a skill found in political cartoons too. 

    I think that there needs to be collaboration between the person with the information or concept to be conveyed, and someone else who renders it in graphic form. Probably there will also be a need to take a leaf from other senior-level designers and sub-divide the graphics process too. For example, consider well-known painters who come up with a sketch that is then rendered by someone with less creativity and maybe more patience. Or, senior-level architects who come up with the brilliant design, and it’s up to their colleagues to fill in the details.

    • Ahava

      I agree, Carl–it’s kind of like handing over a big content job to a writer!

  • Daniel Dannenberg

    foundation knowledge of this post on what information design seems to be
    lacking with a biased towards only complex, large data sets. Your explaination
    on what infographics are by saying: “graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge,
    translated into an appealing illustration. These graphics can present
    complex information quickly and clearly…” is very true. What is not true is the
    biased thought in your post that Infographics have to represent complex data.
    In the beginning of information design, their job was to represent complex
    information/data in a more easily understood way, but they have evolved since they
    jumped online (without the help of pinterest). Now they are as you said;
    appealing illustrations that visually represent knowledge or data. But they are
    also taking information and representing it in a new manner without the heavy
    burden of the original source being complex. Let’s look at the facts; you separate
    infographics from colorful posters and illustrated signs, when information
    design has been in the print medium as colorful posters since almost its
    beginning. I would also note that illustrated signs are also a term for road
    signs that we interact with daily. They too are a form of information design.

    Overall, I found all examples (though each with their own design flaws,
    especially the lack of breathing room in “A Brief History of Content Marketing”)
    to represent the medium infographics well enough. Information design has a
    broad range to it, from subway maps and instruction manuals to roadway signs
    that are represented in print form. This broad range has moved online as well
    in many forms. 

    • Ahava

      Hi Daniel.

      I’m not sure what information design really is–I’ve heard it used to define so many different things that I’m still confused.  However, many of the “infographics” that people promote as infographics to me don’t qualify. That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable pieces of content, or information, it just means they are a different type of content and should be promoted as such.

      • Daniel Scott D


        Thank you for the time in responding Ahava. It’s good to see
        a writer interact more with their viewers.

        Your post itself answered the question on what information design is. It is a
        visual representation of information. That information can be as simple as
        explaining (or informing) a person to drive at a certain speed with one symbol.
        Or it can explain the history of the civil war. No idea (or content) small in
        scope or vast in complexity can be overlooked as an infographic/information
        design/information graphic. The term is broad and reachs across many mediums.

        Where I think alot of people get caught up with is if it does not convey the
        information properly, or well enough, then it’s not an infographic. This is not
        the case and it just means that it’s a bad infographic. Is “15 Grammar
        Goofs” the best infographic? By all means no it is not. But it educates
        and informs through comparison of grammar with the occasional visual explanation.
        Yes it is overstimulating because its drenched in heavy cartoon illustration
        and it could have gone further in visualizing the comparisons. But it works as
        a visual tool to communicate the proper use of grammar and we pick up on it
        quickly. So I guess the real question is; if it was not an infographic and it
        was just a paragraph explaining proper grammar, would it have been easier to
        understand? Could its content be better represented in another form? Probably,
        but if it’s successful then (which it has been) why worry?

        • Ahava

          Hi Daniel,

          I hear what you are saying. Here’s my thing: if people set out to design a poster, and it works well for their audience, then it’s a great poster. If people set out to design an infographic, and it’s not a good infographic, then why bother calling it that? It sets up an expectation (obviously for just some) that is then not met.

          Again, this is my point to Brian–I’m not a writer trying to be nit picky about names. We’re talking about content types here, and I think we should be clear about what we call different content types so that we set up the right frameworks for our user audience when we deliver on that content. Imagine if I promised you a slideshow, and you opened it and there was just 1 slide with 1 paragraph of text? Or a TV program that only had audio?

          • Daniel Scott D

            Hi Ahava!

            I find that good or bad does not change the medium the content was presented in. When you see a TV you expect a TV show, a slideshow you expect a slideshow even if they are bad it doesn’t change the medium they are presented on. But with infographics its different. The term “infographic” does not really create expectations because the title of the infographic relies on creating the expectation. And I am not saying this to be argumentative, because I know we both can agree that there are a lot of bad infographics out there. But because they are bad or do not perform well as an infographic due to content or poor design does not mean we can change the medium they are presented in. In a way calling an infographic a poster is skirting around the fact that people need the hard truth that it is a bad infographic and an explanation to why. This is important so we can cut down on the mass production of poorly conceived infographics and increase the good.

            Thanks for replying, great comments!

    • predsicker

      Daniel – I agree with your perspective completely!

  • Stephen O’Hearn

    I think the current fascination with info graphics points to a growing move towards a preference for curated, visualized information. Pinterest is another. 

    We just don’t have the mental bandwidth or time to read and process all the information that we are exposed to. We want someone else to do the heavy mental lifting and words are too one dimensional to achieve this anymore.  

    My thoughts anyways..  

    • Ahava

      Wow. If that isn’t hitting the nail on the head. I also think we respond well to simple, visual images that unpack a good story quickly.

      • Stephen O’Hearn

        So do I. Ironically I just finished this yesterday.  Even cited some of CMI’s research.  

        Content Marketing in 90 Seconds.

  • John Tabita

    I created two infographics recently, mostly for the fun of it. Interestingly enough, one of them is the most-viewed page on my site. 

    Stephen summed it up nicely with his “mental bandwidth” analogy. Even so, many of the infographics I’ve seen are much too complex for a mental download. (Or maybe I just need a larger data plan.)

    • Ahava

      I think infographics will get you a lot of traffic.  But is it traffic that converts? That’s the point in my above post–I think we’re focused on getting eyeballs and not focused enough on getting sales, or whatever your CTA should be.