Designing and creating science infographics

What is an infographic?

An information graphic or ‘infographic’ is a visual communication genre that combines common icons, illustrations, minimal text, data visualisations, and information, to create an engaging narrative.

Infographics have multiple uses
An infographic simplifies a large amount of complex information into primarily visual messages, so an audience can read and understand them with ease. The simplicity of a science infographic can be helpful in communicating information to non-academic audiences through news articles, brochures, or posters; however, scientists can also use infographics to communicate their research with peers without the formalities of a journal article.

An infographic can:

  • market or sell a product or brand
  • inform
  • entertain
  • persuade an audience e.g. to take a certain action
  • be a visual explanation of something

Infographics are generally not suitable for presenting results in scientific articles. For presenting results for scientific reports or articles, please refer to the displaying data module.

The following are not considered infographics:

  • Any piece of writing with images included throughout – if there is more text than images, it isn’t an infographic
  • Data visualisations (graphs) on their own are not infographics
    (see CLIPS displaying data module)
  • Posters displaying research; they often rely on text and have a generic style
    (see CLIPS poster module)

Types of infographic

example science infographics
Planning your infographic

Familiarise yourself with your topic

Once you have identified the topic of your infographic:

  • Review existing infographics for that topic (there will probably be lots available)
  • Look at what does and doesn’t work
  • Consider how you could present your topic from a unique or unexpected angle, or by focussing on something the audience might not already know
  • Consider if you can base your information around current or even controversial topics; some infographics designers do this (make sure it is appropriate for your topic!)

Example infographics

example science infographicsexample science infographics

Consider your audience and focus

Once you’ve got a specific topic in mind, you need to determine your audience and the key focus and aims of your infographic.

Consider the target audience for your topic and how you define them. Does your audience know about your topic already, or do you want to raise awareness? What do they need to know about or “feel” about it? What do you want them to do with the information?

Determine your key message or focus for the infographic. Your scope should be narrow, so you can plan a narrative around a core message or piece of information. Keep this, and your audience, in mind throughout all other aspects of design and creation. Without a key message, your design will lack focus and look messy.

Scope your narrative

Consider how you will achieve your aims by communicating your key message with a story or narrative. For infographics, the narrative generally has three parts:

  1. The introduction or the ‘hook’. This will grab the attention of the audience, for example with a problem statement, and clearly indicates what the infographic is about.
  2. The body. This contains the bulk of your story and information, with different visuals centred on your key message. This section is where your research evidence shines.
  3. The conclusion. This section clearly indicates to the audience what they are meant to take from the infographic. It may also include a “call to action” that encourages the audience to do something.

Research your topic based on your key message.

Good information is the foundation layer of a good infographic. You will need a surprisingly large amount of information to make a good infographic.

Keep to your scope.

Too much information will overwhelm you and your audience; when researching your topic, keep the key message and aims of your infographic in mind. Review and discard information that will not help you tell your story relative to your focus.

Use quality resources.

It is vital that the sources you use are valid, so be critical when making these decisions. Read widely so you understand different perspectives and use the most up to date information. You should always use an original source, rather than relying on another author’s work that uses the same citation.

Be transparent.

By choosing a focus for your infographic, you create bias by not covering everything about that topic – this is ok as long as you aren’t misrepresenting or distorting information to support your message. Make sure it is easy for any reader to find all the sources you’ve used in your infographic by citing them at the bottom of your design.

Write a “script”.

To make things easier when it comes to designing, compile your research notes as you want them to appear throughout the narrative of your infographic. Note what pieces of information will be visualised. Any combination of data visualisations (graphs), icons, and graphics (images and illustration) can make up your design, but remember the focus is the images and not the text.

Creating your infographic

Sketch a layout

Once you have all your research, and a clear plan of the infographic, it’s time to start designing. Remember your layout needs a ‘hook’ at the beginning (or the most prominent part of the image), a body containing most of the information, and a conclusion. Don’t forget space for your reference list and attributions.

First, sketch your layout – this can be quite detailed. Consider the size, and length/width of the infographic. Looking at lots of other examples of infographics is really helpful at this point.

Once you’re happy, create a ‘wireframe’ or skeleton of your design in the program you are using to create your infographic. Now it’s time to start filling in your frame.

OR

There are lots of online options and tools for building infographics – you don’t have to do all the artwork or layouts yourself. Some of them are listed in the “Helpful links” part of this CLIPS page. Most charge a fee for full access to the tools and output methods but they will save you a lot of time and effort; they provide graphics and layouts ready made.

Write your text content

Your research notes should contain an outline of the text content for your infographic. Now is a good time to write the sections of text that will appear throughout your design.Keep the audience in mind. You want to pitch the content at the right level for them.When preparing the text, remember:

  • keep it to a minimum
  • include a title and if applicable a brief ‘problem statement’
  • text should support the message, not contain it
  • very large data points can be presented using text if this makes the message clearer

Visualise your information

By now you should have a good idea of what data visualisations, icons, and graphics you want to use to illustrate your story. You can exercise a lot of creativity in your design, but here are are some guiding principles to follow to ensure you best communicate your message to the audience.

thinking visually website
How to think visually An excellent resource for choosing the right visualisation.

Data visualisations can be graphs, like pie charts or bar graphs, or a less common type like a pictogram chart. The three most important principles of using data visualisations are: accuracy, consistency, and clarity.

Accurate data visualisations use the right type of visualisation, and present the data correctly, or without distortion.

Consistent data visualisations use the same formatting, scale, and style across the whole infographic. This is another way of ensuring accuracy, as graphs with different scales or formatting can distort the data.

Clear data visualisation stems from streamlining your design to only show the necessary information. You want to highlight the trend or message in your data, not show everything you know. You can do this by labelling data points directly with the value or name, including a short summary of the trends instead of a figure legend, and using design principles like contrast to highlight main points.

View the CLIPS ‘Displaying Data’ module for more on choosing the right graph.

Types of visualisations

bar graph infographicheat map infographicsline graph infographicpictogram infographicpie chart infographicproportional chart infographic

Using icons

Any image that is used to visually communicate a concept can be described as an ‘icon’. Icons are useful for communicating concepts more efficiently than with text, provided they are used properly. Just be careful – audiences can interpret icons differently, depending on their cultural background, level of information, and their personal experiences.

Icons can literally depict a concept in a visual medium. They can also be indicative of a concept without actually depicting it. Similarly, icons can symbolise something by being visually unrelated to the concept. In this instance, there is a constructed meaning that connects the two. Take a look at the icons below.

types of icons

Using colour

Colours can also be interpreted differently by different audiences. A single colour can have multiple meanings in different cultures and situations. They are often linked to emotion, so being aware of the ways colour links with your topic and target audience can help ensure your message has maximum impact.

colour meanings

guide to aesthetics

Using stock images

If you don’t have graphic design skills, or the right software to edit images for your infographics, don’t worry. There is plenty of free content online that you can use. This section helps you know what you can use and how you should provide attribution.

Using Images
The following websites are great resources for free images and vector files, which you can download and use in your designs. Be sure to read the next section on attribution before doing so.

www.flaticon.com
www.freepik.com
www.pixabay.com

Attribution
You always reference other authors’ works when you write an assignment, and using someone’s images or other creative outputs is just the same. People who produce images intended for use by others place attribution requirements on their work, so that if it does get used they are acknowledged in an appropriate way – just like an author would be, in an essay or report.

Creative Commons Licenses
When someone creates something they want to share, they can assign a creative commons license to it that tells potential users how to properly treat and attribute that work. This ensures the person responsible for creating the work gets credit, the integrity of their work is intact, but that they also share their work and benefit others.

Visit the creative commons website for Australia for an overview of the different types of license: http://creativecommons.org.au/learn/licences/

This site also links you to repositories that contain creative commons licenced material. You can use this material in your work as long as you attribute it correctly. To find out how to attribute some work, visit this page: Attributing CC Materials

Other Considerations for Attribution
We mentioned www.flaticon.com is a great resource for vector images that you can edit and use in your designs. When you go to download an image from the site, you will be prompted to provide attribution by copying and including a link with the work.

It is important you adhere to these requirements when you use images. Most websites providing these free images should include guides to attribution.

If you want to use an image, but you are unsure of the attribution requirements, you should read the licensing policy on the site where you found the image. If you can’t find any attribution requirements, contact the creator of the work for more information. Alternatively, it might just be easier to find a different resource with clearer requirements.

Lastly, remember that it is possible to plagiarise creative works, as it is for anything created by another author/artist/designer – and the consequences are the same. It’s fine to get inspiration from a range of works and creative artists, but if you like someone’s design, never replicate it and present it as your own.

Infographic marketing

Part of designing a professional infographic and achieving the project aims is to plan how to promote or ‘market’ it to you target audience. Without it the impact of any infographic will be reduced. You can start to think about how to promote your infographic when you are still designing it, in particular thinking about the audience, context, story, and creating visuals.

What context will the infographic be viewed in?
Both online and in-print infographics need context, so consider where your audience is most likely to see your infographic, and other places that you could promote it and get the message out.

Getting your audience’s attention.
You can plan for sharing your infographic on social media when you are preparing your text content, planning your layout, and creating the visuals. What is something attention-grabbing, unexpected, or interesting in your infographic? Including a summary of a statistic from your infographic, for example in a tweet, is one way of promoting your infographics. Including a condensed or smaller version of a related image will help get your audience’s attention.

Note that marketing infographics requires a specific set of skills outside the scope of CLIPS, but it can still be useful to consider during the design phase. Consider your assessment requirements, and always follow these first.

For a digital infographics, this could mean websites, blogs, or social media accounts relevant to your topic. Social media is a great way to promote infographics, because there are multiple platforms you can use with a large number of users, so you increase the chances of reaching your target audience.

For print infographics, consider where you’d want to post the infographic – perhaps in the doctor’s office, local café, gym, or school. Again, consider your audience.

social media cheat sheet

Useful links

Sites that will help you build an infographic

Piktochart – Create easy to use infographics
Canva – Easy drag-and-drop infographic creator
Visualise.me – Visualise your resume in one click
Easel.ly – Create and share visual ideas
Infogr.am – Charts and infographics the easy way
Venngage – Make Infographics for free

Reference sites

Cool Infographics by Randy Krum
You can also search for the book ‘Cool Infographics’, by R. Krum.

Pinterest.com
Pinterest is a great site to view a wide range of infographics

Mordy Golding for Lynda.com
The five keys to a great infographic – Watch video

Amy Balliett for Lynda.com
Course: Infographics Fundamentals – Visit Lynda.com (requires UQ login)

Dustin Wax for Lifehack
Design Better with CRAP – View blog

Janie Kliever for Canva
Color Theory – View website

Steven Bradley
Icon, Index, and Symbol – Three Categories of Signs – Visit website
For more information on using icons.
*Note that what the author calls ‘signs’, we have called ‘icons’.