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There’s a reason that the subreddit r/dataisbeautiful has nearly 20 million members: since humanity made its first maps, people have been visualizing data. Over the centuries, cartographers, economists, mathematicians, and scientists have created data visualizations with the aim of making information more accessible to and easily understood by the public. Today, graphic designers are a vital part of the information design ecosystem in the marketing industry and beyond.
Defining Information Design
Information design is a broad field, complete with an equally broad (and often confusing) vocabulary. Graphic designers may be familiar with the words data visualization and infographic. Though many use these terms interchangeably, they’re not entirely the same.
According to Google’s Material Design 2 guidelines, “Data visualization is a form of communication that portrays dense and complex information in graphical form. The resulting visuals are designed to make it easy to compare data and use it to tell a story – both of which can help users in decision making.”
Similarly, information designer Duncan Geere writes that data visualization exists at the intersection of the exploratory (data analysis) and the explanatory (information design). On this spectrum, he defines infographics as “…data visualization designed to communicate information to a general audience.”
By Geere’s logic, any data visualization can be an infographic because the distinction ultimately comes down to context and intent. Therefore, as a designer, it’s important to determine who your target audience is before making any creative decisions. Take another look at your data, then ask yourself these five W questions:
- Who is searching for this information?
- What do they already know or assume about this topic?
- When and where will they find this information?
- Why do they want to know these things in the first place?
One Problem, Two Solutions
Here’s an example that puts the above framework into practice:
Imagine that a professional aerospace engineer is researching technological developments in her field. A data visualization that contains diagrams labeled with technical terms and detailed footnotes would benefit someone with her skills and experience.
Now imagine that a group of middle schoolers is building a model rocket in their Intro to Engineering class. An infographic containing cute illustrations, simple language, and more general information would be better suited to them.
By keeping the five Ws in mind, a skilled graphic designer could easily create both data visualizations (even if they knew less about aerospace engineering than a middle schooler).
Context and Content
No matter the topic, context gives content purpose. Since content campaigns always compete for clicks, a thoughtfully designed infographic can give even the most nondescript campaign an edge. Some infographic design best practices for content marketing are:
- Include illustrations and graphic elements to grab people’s attention,
- Highlight surprising statistics that will interest your audience,
- Keep written language clear, concise, and approachable,
- Keep visual language simple and systematic by assigning visual variables to data,
- Stick to your client’s brand guidelines (if applicable).
When in doubt, keep things simple. The easier a piece of information is for a person to understand, the more likely they are to remember it!
The field of information design is ever-evolving, and its importance will only grow as more aspects of our personal and professional lives move online. In this social climate, increased data literacy can benefit everyone, but for those of us who work in digital marketing, it’s an essential skill for navigating the workforce.
Feeling inspired? Check out the design category on flowingdata.com, read The Mind’s Eye: A Look at Data Visualization Psychology for a deeper understanding of best practices for data-driven design, and reach out to the digital PR experts on Go Fish Digital’s content marketing team for all your information design and data visualization needs.
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