The quality of an infographic is usually directly tied to the quality of its data visualizations.
Awesome data visualizations that convert complex data into digestible, interesting stories are the core of infographics that audiences respond to. On the other hand, poor visualizations that add no clarity or even worse, misrepresent data are the fastest way to waste data on a graphic that no one is going to view.
So before you start creating infographics that are just a long list of numbers, facts, and figures, learn how to turn that data into interesting, consumable visualizations.
Understand the Process of Data Visualization
Here is an example of relatively uninteresting data about the amount of space taken up by people, cars, buses, and bicycles, and how you can transform it into a meaningful story through the process of data visualization.
1. Find relationships in the data.
Analyze the data and make observations. An analysis might show:
- Many more people fit in a bus than in a car.
- A bus takes up more space than a car and way more space than a bike.
- Eighty-six cars take up almost 10 times more space than 1.5 buses.
Next, find relationships in the analysis of the data.
A strong, interesting relationship might be: People traveling by bus as a group take up far less space than those traveling by car as individuals.
2. Tell a story based on the relationship.
Turn the relationship into a story by connecting it to something that people would care about. Use the relationship to explain or shed a light on something.
A story based on the relationship might be: People living in heavily populated cities should take the bus and avoid traveling by car. It saves a lot of space on the street and prevents congestion.
3. Use visuals that clearly tell the story.
Now that you have a story, find a way to show it in a meaningful way. Saying that buses save space isn’t interesting, but showing it is.
This image makes it easier to get the point across because you actually show the audience how much space is saved by traveling by bus. They can see it for themselves and absorb the information more deeply.
Know How to Find (and Show) Relationships in Data
When looking for relationships in data, search for:
- Differences (contrasting information)
Once you identify these relationships consider how you can show them over time, space, and categories.
Show Relationships Through Time
Showing relationships through a timeline is a great way to show growth, decline, and changes along the way.
Show Relationships Over Space
Don’t confuse space with maps and geographic areas. Space can be how you use size, shape, scale, and empty space on the page to show information.
When you want to show the difference between the size of elements, use scale and range to show the relationship. But remember that the scale has to be accurate or it is a misrepresentation of the data.
In this example, the space shows the difference in the numbers of users between Twitter and WordPress. The shape sizes make the information easier to absorb and understand.
Show Relationships Between Categories
Lump together statistics about similar categories to show how they relate to each other.
Show Relationships Between Similar Data
Pull out data sets that have interesting connections and relationships.
In this example, the data set included the amount of space a phone could hold. But rather than showing that number, the infographic shows the equivalent number of songs, photos, and movies that would take up that much space. That makes the information relatable, interesting, and memorable.
Show Relationships by Relating to Data that People Understand
If you have a data set that is hard for the reader to grasp, compare it to something they understand.
In this example, the number 1 trillion is hard to comprehend. But by breaking down the number and showing that it is the equivalent of 140 views per person, it makes the number easier to absorb. Find ways to break information into manageable parts that audiences can understand.
Know How to Find Stories in Data
An effective infographic is more than a compilation of randomly placed facts and impressive graphs. It is an organized story and just like any well written content, it should provoke thought and action.
When you have identified relationships between a set of numerical data, interesting facts, maps, diagrams, and charts, ask yourself the following:
- What story does it tell?
- Do you find that story interesting?
- Will people want to share it?
Until you can answer yes to questions 2 and 3, you should probably keep digging through your data. If you can’t ever answer yes to those questions, try putting an interesting spin on the topic or pick a new one altogether.
Use Statwing to Uncover Stories
If you are having a hard time understanding how to build relationships and tell a story through data, Statwing can help. The site allows users to upload their information to a software that sorts through the data to find relationships and stories.
You start by uploading data. The Statwing demo uses data on Titanic survivors.
Once the data is uploaded, you can use Statwing to select variables of the data to focus on.
After selecting variables (in this case Survived and Fare Paid for Ticket), Statwing can deliver information that shows how the variables relate to each other.
In this case, Statwing assessed that passengers that survived tended to have higher values of fare paid than those who didn’t survive. It also provides a summary of the information.
And charts that show the information.
Essentially Statwing finds the story in the data for you, but even if you don’t use Statwing, you can use this same process to analyze the data.
Know How to Use Visuals That Best Tell the Story
When thinking about how you want to display the data that you have found, consider all of the different ways to show data.
Pie charts show how divisions (slices) make up a whole (pie). Pie charts work best when showing part-to-whole relationships, often represented through percentages.
Don’t use a pie chart if:
- There are too many slices
- The main purpose of the chart is to compare the slices to each other (it should be used to compare the parts to the whole)
- Some slices overlap each other
Themed Percentage Charts
Themed charts are basically pie charts that use themed images rather than circles. Themed percentage charts make the information more interesting as it ties the meaning of the data to the chart that delivers it.
Avoid using themed percentage charts if the sections of information are more than three. That can get messy and confusing.
Image via CopyPress
Bar and Line Charts
Bar and line charts display two pieces of information on an axis. This chart is good for showing comparisons between categories.
When considering a bar/line chart, first determine a range for your chart based on the largest value of your data. That will make it easy to decide on a range for the vertical axis and the size of each increment.
Order items from highest to lowest when showing information, unless the horizontal axis is showing increments of time.
A scatterplot is somewhat similar to a bar or line chart except that it does not use lines and bar to show the information. Rather, it just pinpoints the end of the bar or line with an image (usually a circle).
It’s a good idea to use a scatterplot if you want to use another graphic inside the chart to represent additional information.
Venn diagrams show the relationship between concepts by overlapping them when they relate to each other.
An image is only a true Venn diagram if there is a point in the image that all main circles overlap each other. (Twitter in the example below is in the section that is a part of the three pieces.)
Showing data in the form similar to the periodic table has become a popular. It is a good way to show a large group of items in an abbreviated way, and color coding allows for grouping.
Bubble charts are great ways to show comparisons. The bubble sizes relate to each other, giving a great visual for the relationship.
Bubble charts only work if the size of the bubbles accurately measure up to each other. For example, showing data in bubbles that have no relationship between size and information is pointless and confusing.
When comparing a large amount of data or information in two categories, it is a good idea to split the infographic down the middle to show all of the information for both categories in a clean way.
This is great when comparing detailed data in two categories as it keeps the information separate but close.
Map charts are very straightforward ways to show information related to location.
Just make sure not to put so much data on a map that it is hard to decipher the exact location point.
What process do you use for creating data visualizations? Share you tips with us in the comments below.