Raising The Standard For Infographics

raising the standard for infographicsInfographics aren’t what they used to be, and I’m not referring to Google’s stance on them. There are ways around that, obviously, but I’m referring more towards the design and use of them.

I’m not saying there’s nothing wrong with a well-designed and well-researched infographic, but what I am saying is that we clearly need to raise our standards. When the idea of an infographic gets tossed up in a meeting, the first question that should be asked is, “How can this benefit the users?” Ironically, this is the underlying premise of all content creation, and one that people most often overlook.

Geoff Kenyon recently posted a great overview at SEJ on the future of infographics, and it got me thinking. The best infographics that we’re starting to see are not only informative and helpful, they’re also interactive. Creating something that a user can spend several minutes on may take a little more effort (and cost a bit more) from a creative standpoint, but it’s also something that will likely be able to withstand the test of time more than some of what we’re seeing today.

Interactive infographics are especially valuable because they can be developed in such a way that the data contained therein can update as it changes. Let’s say you build something based on the city population of Dallas, Texas. This is a statistic that’s going to constantly change, so being able to provide researchable and configurable data based on this is going to be important. And having something that’s able to stay updated to the current population will be even more desirable to use (did I mention linkable?). Now you’re with me.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that the typical image-focused infographics are no longer useful. Some can withstand the test of time, like this one about bridesmaid duties. But I will say if the first thought is “Hey, let’s do an infographic” and no solid idea is pitched along with that statement, someone owes a dollar to the swear jar. Inspiration may not always initially precede an idea, but it really helps the development process when you dig deep enough during the ideation process that you eventually get to some inspiration.

Here’s an example. When I worked for Click2Rank, it was awesome to be a part of the team that put together the infamous Matt Cutts infographic. But we didn’t come up with the idea for the infographic until AFTER inspiration hit. It was late afternoon and Kris Roadruck was browsing webmaster videos. Here’s how that magic went down ……

Kris Roadruck: “You know, I wonder if there’s a correlation between his shirt color and the questions he responds to?”

Me: “Would be interesting to watch them all and see if there is, would make for an interesting blog post or something.”

Kris Roadruck: “No, but it would make for an interesting infographic.”

We then talked about the idea with another co-worker, Jey Pandian. Jey came up with several other data points we should collect when watching the videos. And after three days of watching the videos (at which point my wife started to sound like Matt when I got home) (please don’t tell her that), we had the data we needed for the infographic. As with any kind of creative project, there are always going to be naysayers. Some didn’t like the design we chose, but we were happy with it. And you know what? It did pretty well.

The only negative with this particular infographic (which perfectly illustrates my point about about integrating real-time data into your design)? The data has changed. The funny part of the infographic, the concept itself, remains for all time. In fact, considering that a site was built call “The Short Cutts” using all of the videos Matt has created, this is much more informative for end users looking to search for answers to questions he’s most likely already answered.

Here are some examples of interactive infographics (in addition to some of the ones Geoff mentioned in his SEJ piece):

You vs. John Paulson

Truckpocalypse

2010 A Year In Reviews

The Engagement Ring Quiz

How Search Works (Geoff mentioned this one, but it’s pretty awesome so here it is again!)

While I don’t know the entire thought process on these infographics, I can say these were created focusing on the end user. It’s been said that linkable content is something that sparks an emotion which triggers a person to share it. And really? If the infographic you create isn’t doing that, then why bother?

Infographics can be great ways to get links, but that doesn’t need to be the first thought behind creating them. As with any of your content, build for the user, build to educate, to entertain, to tell a story. It’s time to raise our standards and just say “no” to fluff and ridiculous collections of images that add no value. Want to build an infographic? Go right ahead. Just start the creative process by thinking about what you can create for your clients, prospective clients and their customers.

Joshua Titsworth is an Analyst with Vizion Interactive who is passionate about all things Internet-related. When he isn’t online tweeting or blogging, he’s playing TMNT with his kids or Mario Kart with his wife.

Image: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

  • studiumcirclus

    Exactly.

    Categorised content (infographics, blog posts, YouTube videos) do well because they are good – not because of the category they fall into. By the same token; items which some people have categorised as “old” or “bad” can still do well if the individual piece is good (creative and interesting).

    Less labelling, more elbow-grease!

    Thinking in a more granular way can sometimes be a real benefit.

  • http://joshuatitsworth.com joshuatitsworth

    “Less labelling, more elbow-grease!” This, a thousand times this. Ideas are great, but like I said if they aren’t followed up with somewhat of a plan or spark of inspiration the process is going to get dragged out. And that part, and the creation aspect is where most of the attention needs to be given.

  • Doc Sheldon

    Good stuff, Josh! Did an interview of Matt Siltala on the topic of infographics the other day, and the “should tell a story” came up more than once. I think your point is well taken, about the first question being how it will benefit the users.

    I also agree completely that although the novelty of IGs may have faded, those that are well done will stand out. Interactive IGs are hot now, and animated may be the next reigning favorite. Gotta wonder how long it’ll be before someone adds synched audio.

    Scratch & sniff infographics, anyone?

  • Jon Hogg

    This is why we can’t have nice things. So many bad infographics about these days, mainly driven by us SEO-types. I think the bar for interactive content is much, much higher than infographics, so I don’t think we’ll kill that as quick.

    I think the key with any form of content is making it hard to replicate – what stops a competitor coming along and re-doing it with their badge on it? To set the bar high it usually needs either man hours, rare data or rare skills, or ideally a combination of the lot.

    When we made TheShortCutts.com earlier this year it was definitely the man hours we put in that hopefully makes it hard to copy and hopefully provides the wow factor. Something I know you guys feel our pain on :)

  • ShellyKramer

    Totally agree, Jon. We spend a lot of “man hours” (isn’t it funny, that word?) on all the content we create for clients, whether it’s copy, design, content and visuals for social media sharing, etc. You can always get it done somewhere cheaper. You can probably get it done faster. But it’s not going to work as well as what we spend more time developing strategically and contextually. So I just shake my head when people want crap (or produce crap) and know that they’ll ultimately reap the benefits, or lack thereof, of their ignorance. Can you tell I’ve not yet had any caffeine and am grumpy?

  • http://joshuatitsworth.com joshuatitsworth

    What up Doc! I read that same interview with Mat and he’s pretty smart when it comes to these. Interactive is always going to turn a few heads, but as with typical infographics if the content is lacking the overall graphic won’t perform as well. At the very least get put in a directory for interactive infographics.

  • Doc Sheldon

    TheShortCutts IG is awesome, to be sure! I suspect the payoff has been worth the considerable effort it must have taken and will prove to be evergreen. Curious… I’ve revisited it several times and have noticed it’s been updated… is that a manual update process or is it semi-automated?
    @Joshua – I’m talking about a Level Headed Marketing hangout we did with Matt last week. We just concluded the editing and uploads last night, so will probably be publishing it later today. I’ll be sure to send you the link.

  • http://amyvernon.net/ AmyVernon

    If an infographic doesn’t have any data in it, it’s just prettified text. And way too much crap out there is just that – prettified text, except that it’s not even pretty. I wish more people thought like this. Thing is, there are so many HORRID infographics that get huge play. People seem to like them. Or do they just *think* they’re supposed to like them and it becomes this self-perpetuating horrorshow?

  • http://joshuatitsworth.com joshuatitsworth

    Mat’s been interviewed before on his infographics, just assumed it was one of those. LINK ME!

  • http://joshuatitsworth.com joshuatitsworth

    That’s an excellent question, but could part of them “thinking” they’re supposed to use it the big numbers that are being displayed? Something I hope isn’t entirely true. Regardless I hope ones like you’ve pointed out that are “prettified” at least step up their game. It’s a shame when hardwork goes into something only to get passed up and kicked aside by another one with far less consideration put into it.

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