Podcast

The art of infographics, with Caroline Beavon

Our guest this episode is freelance infographic designer, information wrangler and narrative engineer Caroline Beavon. Unsurprisingly, she’s here to talk infographics.

For the uninitiated, an infographic is what the name suggests; a graphic visualisation of information or data, usually in a way that tells a story or highlights some sort of trend. They’ve been around for centuries -from the 1600s in fact – but have really gone mainstream since the publication of David McCandless’ book Information is Beautiful in 2009.

Now, you don’t have to search very hard to find infographics online. Chances are you’ve seen them somewhere in your news feeds and timelines – after all, according to Mass Planner, infographics are liked and shared on social media three times more than any other type of content.

In short, when they’re done well, they are a really effective way to tell a story in an engaging and captivating way that can resonate with any audience.

But, the question is, how to do infographics well?

Well, that’s what we’ll explore in this episode. With Caroline’s help, we’ll go through the steps you should take to make a brilliant infographic, highlight some free tools you can use to create your own and marvel at the wonder of post-it notes.

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Show notes

Check out Caroline’s website, where you’ll find examples of her work, loads of useful blogs and links to book her to come and make some beautiful for you. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Infographics are great because they can make tough data accessible – there are lots of people out there who don’t respond well to numbers and statistics, but when they’re turned into a story that all changes.

The medium really went mainstream when Information is Beautiful was published – it’s the book that of offices have on their shelves and it made complicated stories accessible and started conversations.

As humans we respond to visuals, to colours and to shapes. Taking a subject that may previously have been excluded to us and making it accessible can make a real difference. A great example is the little graphs you see on your utility bills now – they help you understand where you’re spending your money.

Infographics aren’t limited to a particular audience or age group – their story and design will determine that.

It’s easy to think of infographics as their own thing, but try to resist; they’re actually just another communications tool. They’re exactly the same as other forms of marketing.

Think about your audience, think about what they’re interested in. What are they going to respond to?

For younger audiences, do exactly what you would do for anything else you’re creating for that age group. If you’re a youth marketer, you know them best. What celebrities are hot for them right now? What trends are important?

Caroline has a load of great examples on her website including, my personal favourite, this innovative way of showing how little time is left for our fossil fuels – by showing which ones will be outlived by current celebrities.

celebrity resource infographic - which will last longer?

I’m not a designer. I’m a journalist. I’ve done a lot of research and taught myself a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time on Pinterest looking at things that make me happy!

If you’re wondering what the process is for creating an infographic, Caroline can help:

– What’s your message? What are you trying to say?

– Think about the audience – what do we know about them?

– Then think about the information

– Transfer each piece of information onto a post-it note – or use a digital tool like X Diagram – but the point is that you can physically move things around

– Look at the post-its – you can then more rational to what you’ve got. The human brain often gives more importance to the bigger things…but putting them on post-it notes gives everything the same importance as a starting point.

– Whittle down your pile of post-its and then start to shape the layout – take photos along the way of layouts you like!

– Then start sketching stuff

– Now, you’ve thought about the layout, how the user will get through the graphic and read your story.

– Whatever post-it note you put at the top will draw them in but also start them asking questions

– At this point, you could now pass this onto your in-house designers. But, beware, infographics are editorial not design, so you need to give a very clear brief/a sketch/a wireframe to your designer – you need to the thinking, plotting, planning and storytelling

A top tip from Caroline is to design in black and white first. Add extra colours later. Use icons from the same set, or that have a similar look and feel. This can really help give your graphic a clean and effective feel.

I’d rather see a great story with a mediocre design than the other way round. Thinking about design is important, but don’t overdesign.

Some free tools that you might like to try when creating an infographic include Piktochart, Infogram, Easelly and RAW. Lots of these sites have templates – look at the templates by all means, but don’t try and force your design into them.

Focus on the design process first – no tool can do that for you.

I’ve seen people create great infographics in PowerPoint and Paint. I was even once asked to create an infographic in Excel!

One of Caroline’s favourites from her portfolio is a piece for the University of Oxford, which specifically requested no dreaming spires and no cityscape!

regional econimic impact of university of oxford - infographic

The future of infographics is highly likely to involve moving parts.

I want to do more small, short, social media animations. Motion is going to be really important.

Also, don’t be afraid to break your infographics up – move away from the long thin ones. Pinching and zooming is no fun.

Caroline’s three top tips for creating killer infographics

1. Don’t forget about your message – focus on what you’re trying to say

2. Don’t forget about your audience

3. Keep the content fascinating and the design simple

5,4,3,2,1

This section is how we end every episode, with some quick-fire questions to help us get to know our guests a little better.

5 apps on your phone you use the most

WhatsApp, Facebook, Monzo, Moneybox, Instagram

4 celebs you’d love to invite round for dinner

They’re having Domino’s pizza – Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Corbyn, Zoella, Dr John the Blues musician

3 words to describe what it’s like working at BBC Sport

Fascinating, frustrating, post-it notey

2 places in the world or big events you’ve never visited but would love to

Mardis Gras in New Orleans and Goa

1 social media channel you love more than the others

Instagram

Find out more

Check out Caroline’s website, where you’ll find examples of her work, loads of useful blogs and links to book her to come and make some beautiful for you. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Credits

The Native Podcast is hosted and produced by Dave Musson, our editor-in-chief.

Our music is by Broke For Free and is used under Creative Commons.

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