How to Design Data

We’ve written a lot about designing, what to do, what not to do and why simplicity is always key. But designing data brings a whole other set of challenges.

Data can be a pain. There are stats, correlations and complicated numbers that we as visual communication designers have to digest and turn into something anyone could understand. Maybe we’re masochists, but we thrive on the challenge of turning complex data into visual stories.

Here’s what we see as the key to infographic design, presentation design, report design – any design where you need to turn the manically complex into the wonderfully simple.

Remember less is more
Viewers don’t want to be overwhelmed with data. If they wanted that they would look at the raw data we’ve spend hours deciphering. Often, people like to keep presentation and reports as short as possible and do this by jamming loads of information into a small space. I always say it’s better have ten slides and spend one minute on each, than have five slides you have to spend ten minutes explaining.

Choose the right type of chart
Charts and infographics go hand in hand. Rarely will a data visualisation exist without one. So, it’s vital to choose the right type of chart for the data you have. Each chart has a different purpose and it’s important to get to grips with each of them. Charts are there for easy comparison and one of the most common mistakes I see is people using pie charts side by side, when a bar graph is much easier to read when comparing.

Keep it simple
When design gets really bad it can even skew the data. 3D pie charts and other fancy effects can sometimes change how the data looks, even if the numbers are correct. I’m a huge fan of simplicity as fancy designs don’t really add anything and often end up looking gimmicky. The only time ‘fancy’ designs work effectively is when there is a strong theme that it ties into. Crisp, clear, simple, whatever you want to call it, keep it that way.

Get the flow right
Data visualisation is there to tell a story. So are reports, presentations – almost anything. When working with data we need to find the logical order. When looking at data from a survey for example, you might first want to know how many people were surveyed, and then how many were male or female, and then their age, etc,. It all needs to be intuitive and read like a book, otherwise the viewer gets lost and doesn’t know what to look at first.

Be accurate
This may seem like a given but I have seen far too many pie charts where the pieces don’t add up to 100% to believe that. Double, triple, quadruple check the data to make sure you have it all correct. One little mistake could cost hours of work. The most important thing is remembering to cite your sources. Without this, you might as well have made the whole thing up (it probably would have been easier).

Do you have any more data design tips? Tweet us! @infographicly_


The Importance Of Negative Space in Design

We’ve gone through the dos and don’ts of design and how to design data. Now it’s time to delve a little deeper and talk about the invisible elephant in the room…

Blank space.

And no, us designers won’t be Taylor Swift-ing it and writing your name to fill up the blank space. We’re leaving it blank… because we’re mavericks like that.

That’s because when too much information is in a layout, the messaging becomes cluttered and unreadable. Visual communication design is all about creating simplicity. You can’t do that if you fill up every bit of space possible with information.

The key to simplicity is keeping significant negative space.

Negative space is just as important as positive space, as it gives positive space more definition and brings balance to a composition. Too much information just doesn’t work. It takes longer to read and understand and when you’re designing data, a complicated infographic is a cardinal sin.

My number one infographics design rule has always been, and always will be, that less is more, but this is a tricky concept to stick to. Our first instinct as humans is to get things done quickly, because laziness is just human nature. This is why we see people creating designs with all the information they could ever find on one page, thinking (wrongly) that it means the information will be delivered quickly and will be easier for the viewer.

In fact, the viewer doesn’t know where to look or which information is the most important, and in the end you’ll spend too much time explaining it all. It is much better to deliver that information in bite size chunks on lots of different pages or sections. And this means embracing the blank space attitude.

It’s not our fault we do this, we’re battling with ingrained Darwinian stuff here. That’s why creating good design is harder than it looks. When designed well, negative space looks incredible, but it can also go very, very badly. Learn how to use it well and your customers, (and your boss) will thank you.


Keeping it Simple: Why Simplicity is Best in Design

There’s no escaping that we as a species love Apple products. Everyone has succumbed to the cult of Apple, and believe me, if you’ve ever met anyone who’s worked at Apple, it is a cult. At the heart – or core – of the most successful company in the world are the principles of simple, functional design.

Apple completely changed the way technology works. Bye bye buttons on buttons on buttons and hello simple, seamless swiping. When it comes to visual communication design we need to apply the same principles.

Data visualisation is all about making the complex seem simple. If you can’t do that, then you simply haven’t done a very good job.

But simplicity is complicated. There’s a fine line between minimalism and emptiness. As designers we have to work hard everyday to find that line and work with it (and make it look best looking line possible at the same time).

Rookie designers love to use unnecessary design. By unnecessary design I mean 3D charts, shadow effects and fancy illustration or type. While they might look good in certain contexts, usually they’re more gimmicky than anything.

We can all fall foul of fancy decoration and overload whatever kind of data visualisation we’re making. When I need to keep things simple I go back to basics and ask myself five questions:

  1. Is the important bit of information clear, or does the viewer have to search for it?
  2. Have I presented everything in small chunks of information, or overloaded it?
  3. Is the text easy to read and free of jargon that people won’t understand?
  4. Have I really thought about the aim of the data visualisation and is it presented clearly?
  5. Can a fresh set of eyes understand it?

If I fall short on any of these I’m putting out a complicated infographic, and that, simply put, is an oxymoron too far.


Why You Should Treat Designers Like Amazon Prime

When we shop on Amazon, we do it because we know the stuff is good quality, the site’s full of bargains and things can be delivered the next day. It’s the perfect model of a service that’s good, cheap and fast, all at the same time.

Or is it?

There’s something we’re forgetting. If we want the next day delivery we have to pay for Amazon Prime. This changes the model, it’s no longer cheap and we’re just left with good and fast. If we opt for the slow free delivery, we’re only left with good and cheap.

Good, cheap and fast doesn’t exist.
Deep down we all know this. That’s why we’re willing to pay Amazon more for a premium service. And it’s the same in infographics and visual communication design. When good, cheap and fast meet, something’s gotta give:

Cheap & Fast
This is the McDonald’s of design. It’s cheap and fast, but it’ll do. If we had the time we’d choose something else (anything else).

Good & Cheap
Custom infographic design takes a lot of thought, creativity and hard work. It’s not something that can be done overnight, especially on a tight budget. It’s worth being patient to get something that your brand will be proud of. It may not be fast, but it’s always worth the wait.

Fast & Good
In the world of design, “fast” means being in the office until 3AM, with a leftover pizza for breakfast and hard work from a whole team. This is going to cost you more, but when you’re working with bespoke designers, the quality will be worth it.

So when you’re looking for good, cheap and fast, please... just pick two.

Sincerely,
Every designer ever.


Beyond Comic Sans: How to Master Typography

Put your hands up if you’ve ever used Comic Sans. It’s OK, we’ve all been there. We were young and naive, living in a world where clip art plagued our noticeboards and your homework wasn’t complete without a Microsoft Word art heading. The time has come to forgive ourselves.

But for those of you who are still using Comic Sans – just stop. Stop now. There is no excuse.

For whatever you’re designing, typography is important. This doesn’t just mean choosing the right font (aka anything but Comic Sans), it means the difference between amateur and professional design.

The basics of typography are simple and I’ve come up with a guide that everyone can use. These guidelines are not just for infographic and visual communication design, they’ll help any presentation, report or letter. Let’s go:

Get the spacing right

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Measure is the length of a line of type. Short measure is easier to read as it takes the eye less time to locate the next line. if there isn’t much type, like for example on an infographic, you can keep it narrow, but otherwise 40-80 characters is best for readability.

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Tracking is the space between letters. If you’re short on space don’t reduce this as it can really reduce readability. Cut some type instead.

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Leading is the space between lines. Again, this shouldn’t be too tight or loose. It’s all about making it readable. Make sure you scale down proportionately. Sometimes people stretch or condense type so it’s distorted when they mean to increase or decrease the font size.

Make it readable
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The main purpose of design is communication. There’s no point in creating something beautiful if people can’t read and understand it. It’s important to make sure all type is legible. It seems simple but people do make these mistakes. Fonts can be too small, or background colours clash, making the whole thing impossibly illegible.

It’s helpful to think of all work like a book. A book flows naturally from left to right. Always stick with this format, as people intuitively view work in this way.

Keep alignment consistent
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This means keeping everything left aligned, or centre aligned, or right aligned, not swapping between them (avoid justified alignment, it creates annoying white spaces between words). When you do this you’ve also got to be careful to make sure ragged edges are corrected. Ragged edges are bits of white space at the end of lines that just need to be fixed by changing where the lines break, making the edges look more uniform.

Fix orphans and widows
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Orphans and widows are ends of paragraphs of text that seem to hang, leaving a lot of white space in body copy. These white spaces interrupt the text and generally look rubbish. They are easy to fix though, just change where the previous line breaks.

Don’t use too many typefaces
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Too many typefaces just look like a mess. Professional design means clean and simple. It’s best to stick with two or three (at the most) different typefaces to avoid the unwanted cluttered look.

Use matching fonts
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When picking your two fonts stay clear of conflict and aim for contrast. Choosing fonts for a design project is like choosing an outfit to wear. This means you shouldn’t pick typefaces that are too similar, as this causes trouble seeing what’s most important. Try fonts from the same family (light, bold, narrow, etc).

Get the mood right
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Typefaces play a huge part in the feel of the design. Font for a serious presentation needs to be neutral, clean and conservative. For more fun things, like a comic book, fonts can have more personality and reflect the mood you want to present. Typeface can set a tone, so make sure your mood is right.

Keep it simple
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That being said, fonts with more personality shouldn’t be used for big chunks of type. Relegate these to titles. Even then special effects and display fonts should be used with caution. They are very easy to get wrong. Use simple, clean fonts and you’ll be safe.

Don’t overemphasise
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UNLESS YOU WANT THE READER TO FEEL LIKE SOMEONE IS SHOUTING AT THEM, DON’T USE ALL CAPS. Capital letters also take longer to read. If you want to use caps, do it sparingly for headlines. If you desperately want to emphasise something, there are loads of ways you can do this: bold, underline, italics, increasing the font size. Choose one way to avoid the messy look, but don’t choose the caps lock button.

Remember hierarchy
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Visual hierarchy means making sure the reader knows which bits are most important or come first. Headlines come first, then sub-headings, then text. Make sure your layout and type reflects this.

Got anymore typography tips or questions? Then get typing & tweet us over at @infographicly_


The Dos and Don’ts of Design

Designing is hard. Super hard. Mainly because it’s so easy to get spectacularly wrong, especially when you were supposed to deliver that report or presentation yesterday. But when design works, it really works.

Luckily there are a few basic design rules that everyone can follow to create something that’s not only simple, but powerful.

I’m planning to go into more detail in a later post, but for now, here’s a handy guide on what to do and what not to do in design.

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Colour
Colour in design can be tricky to get right. Using the right colours as well as the right number of colours is key. Whilst using all the colours of the rainbow is great for drawing, well, a rainbow, it’s not the best of ideas for creating sophisticated design.

Do: Use colour sparingly to highlight important information.
Don’t: Use more than five colours in a layout.
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Typography
Typeface, typography, font, whatever you want to call it, is super important for the feel of a design. There are a few simple rules: don’t mix too many typefaces, make sure it’s readable and sort out spacing. This all sounds a lot easier than it actually is, but as long as you stick to the basics, it’ll look lovely.

Do: Make fonts legible and fitting for the design.
Don’t: USE COMIC SANS(!)

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Layout
There’s a reason books are laid out the way they are, they’re easy to read. Putting things in a logical order is the key to a good layout. Good layout = intuitive design. Simple.

Do: Guide readers in a logical order.
Don’t: Forget about alignment, it helps create consistency.
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Callouts
Callouts (AKA speech bubbles or quotes) are prone to being overused. Too many callouts dilute the purpose of what you’re trying to say. Use them sparingly.

Do: Focus on one key point in each callout.
Don’t: Litter the design with them.

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Space
The backbone of good design is to present something both visually and effectively. This can be disrupted by overloading something with too much information. The ‘empty’ parts of a design can be just as important as the parts you fill.

Do: Leave plenty of negative (blank) space.
Don’t: Cram loads of information into a tiny space.
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Visuals
Illustration, photography and iconography can be hard to get right in design. The main thing to remember is to only use visuals if they enhance the context. If they don’t, then it’s time to get rid of them.

Do: Choose visuals that are in the same spirit. It all needs to match.
Don’t: Use complex designs that distract the eye.
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Simplicity
The best designs are always the simplest. Keep things clean, straightforward and effective. When it comes to design, less is always more.

Do: Always aim for quality over quantity.
Don’t: Use gimmicky elements, like 3D charts and shadow effects.

For examples of great visual communication design, check out our work on our website.


Motion Infographics - The Next Step in Data Visualization

It’s no secret that I’m a bit obsessed with infographics. When it comes to data visualization and visual communication design, I can be geekier than a Star Wars fan at a midnight screening of The Force Awakens.

At the moment I’m feeling nerdier than ever because something’s happening in the data world that I’m really excited about: motion infographics.

Maybe you’re wondering why I’m so excited. After all, they’ve been around for a good few years now. But it’s only now that brands are starting to realise their value.

The big brands know that interactive content is the way forward. Take Snapchat for instance: it’s super-dynamic and super-popular. The company is reportedly valued at $16bn. That’s much less than Facebook ($245bn) or even Instagram ($33bn). But the company has grown enormously in the three years since Facebook reportedly offered to buy the company for $3bn.

As a user, I can see the power and potential the app has. When I want to read the news or get a glimpse of the day’s events, I click on CNN’s snapchat. It’s much better than visiting their app. Why? It’s simply more engaging.

Now us infographic creators are using the same idea in data visualization. Infographics are designed to share complicated data in a visual way, and interactive, animated and video infographics makes information more dynamic and even easier to understand. When movement is used properly in communication, your data can become much more powerful.

BUT...

If you don’t get animation or movement right, it can make the infographic seem very gimmicky. People using Prezi poorly – I’m looking at you.

This mistake is easy to avoid though, if you know when and what type of motion infographic to use. Here’s how I use the different types:

INTERACTIVE INFOGRAPHICS

What are they? Websites or embedded tools that allow the user to click or scroll through the information to get more of an in-depth view.
Perfect for: Giving the audience a personalized experience.
Good examples: People Movin and Poppy Field

ANIMATED INFOGRAPHICS 

What are they? Usually gifs where part of the design is moving. The text normally remains static.
Perfect for: Featuring motion and progression.
Good examples: How Speakers Make Sound and How a Car Engine Works

VIDEO INFOGRAPHICS

What are they? These are videos but done in an infographic style.
Perfect for: Easy sharing – videos can be embedded just about everywhere.
Good examples: Love Around the World and The Girl Effect

Still not convinced motion infographics are the future? Read how they are changing how we see the world here.


7 Awesome Interactive Infographics We Love

We all know infographics are super-effective for business. They drive traffic, are super-shareable and establish credibility for a brand. Humans love infographics because we’re visually wired – in fact, psychologists have discovered that 83% of learning occurs visually.

When motion is introduced to an infographic it can make it more effectivemore powerful and even more shareable. If you ask us, motion infographics are the future of visual communication design!

We’ve searched the internet high and low for the best interactive and animated infographic designs that communicate data in beautiful, creative ways.

The One That Busts Myths
It turns out that what we think we know about drug addiction is all wrong. Drug addiction isn’t a physical dependency after all, and this infographic illustrates this difficult topic in an easy-to-digest and sensitive way.

The One That’s A Resume
It’s a struggle to come up with new and inventive ways of presenting your CV or resume to potential employers. This guy’s done it though with this brilliant Super Mario-style interactive resume.

The One That Will Stop You Smoking
This clever infographic from The Cancer Society of Finland puts the impact of the damage smoking does to a person’s body right in front of you.

The One For Football Fans
Football. Statistics. Infographics. They all go hand-in-hand. This well-designed infographic compares the winning England 1966 World Cup squad with the last world cup team.

The One That Blows Your Mind
Facebook paid HOW much for WhatsApp? This infographic puts the $19bn sale into perspective.

The One That’s Really A History Lesson
In the history of the planet, 70 years is merely a blip – but what a blip it’s been. This infographic shows you the phenomenal technological progress we’ve made in that time.

The One We Made
OK so we might be a bit biased with this one, but we love it! And it’s all about becoming a little greener. The planet wins, you win, everyone wins.

Have you got a favourite we’ve missed? Share it with us on Twitter @infographicly_


When To Use Visual Communication Design For Your Business

Infographics are impressive. Or so you’ve heard. Sure, visual communication design is useful in business, but that doesn’t mean that using an infographic is always the right choice.

So if you want to use them in your marketing but not sure if you should, relax - we’ve got you. Here’s all you need to know about when to use an infographic to visualize data.

When you have LOADS of data
If you have a big lump of statistics you’re not sure what to do with, an infographic could be the way forward. For example, when you have data for comparison it’s much easier to understand it when it’s visualized to scale.

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Infographics are all about helping your data make impact, so they really come into their own when trying to raise awareness for specific issues, such as the plight of Syrian refugees.

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When you want to be clearInfographics are also great for explaining processes. Take IKEA manuals. They come with zero words – just step by step images. Below we demonstrate how to make pumpkin pie latte in an infographic… easy right?

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAVUAAAAJGJhZmJlZDZhLWU3MzQtNGNjMC05MjYyLTY3ZWEyNmQ2NGNkYwStill not sure if an infographic would work for you? Let’s break it down even more:

Is the data difficult to understand in written form?
If yes, then you might just need an infographic. There’s nothing worse than being bombarded with facts and figures and then being asked to make sense of them yourself. Humans are visually wired, so breaking complex data down visually helps us understand it.

Do your users like infographics?
Infographics are built to be shared on social media. Generally people respond very well to infographics (is the visually wired thing), and research has shown that 45% of web users will click on a link if it features an infographic. But some audiences may not, so keep an eye on whether yours is responding to your content. If not, you may want to rethink.

Have you overused them?
As much as most people love data visualization, if you’re constantly pumping out the same type of content users can get bored, and your hard work won’t have the same impact. Less is more in this instance. While infographics can work with many different kind of things, save the infographics for the really important, complex stuff.

Need more advice? Think we’ve missed something? Tweet us @infographicly_


How I Found Out That Failure Isn't Always a Bad Thing

When my elder sister turned thirteen she received a motivational plaque from my mother that said: ‘The key to happiness is having dreams. The key to success is making those dreams come true.’ I was only twelve at the time but those words that hung on my sister’s bedroom wall are what always came to mind whenever I would think of my career.

It took me over 3 decades (okay, and a bit!) to begin chasing my dream down the entrepreneurial road. However, after a few months, the excitement and novelty wore off and that’s when the real challenges began to surface.

In 2013, I found myself setting up a business as well as closing it down in less than a year due to a failed partnership. And nobody – especially if you’re a control freak / obsessive creature like myself - enjoys failure. The word ‘fail’ in itself can be daunting especially when there’s such a stigma attached to it.  But I like to refer to it as an acronym I once stumbled upon: Fast Action In Learning.

Today, I write this article on the 2-year anniversary of my second company. I won’t lie and say that things are glorious (yet!) but the fact that we’ll be going into business for a third year isn’t so bad after all. There have been many tears of pain and joy along the way but if failure has taught me anything after starting all over again, here’s what I would say:

Jump back on your feet.
Derek Redmond showed up at the 1992 Summer Olympics as a favoured medal contender for the 400m sprint. Before he even got past the 50m mark he tore a hamstring which knocked him down as fast as he began. That didn’t stop him from finishing what he was there to do though. He limped his way to the finish line, knowing that he was going to be dead last and would fail to make it through to the finals. Moral of the story: it’s not about failing but about how fast you bounce back up again.

Failure fuels success.
Starting a business is risky and takes courage and perseverance. It took Sir James Dyson 5,127 failed vacuum prototypes over a period of 15 years before finally getting it right. The thought of starting anything from scratch sounds discouraging. It’s not easy to see what you’ve poured your heart and soul into come to an end for whatever reason.  But as Henry Ford once said “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Eventually something's gotta give.

Enjoy the ride.
Since success is never guaranteed, stress becomes natural, especially during the very early stages of a business that’s trying to pick itself off the ground. The pressure will always be there but if you let it take over you’ll miss out on what you initially signed up for – doing something you love. When you focus more on the pleasure you’re likely to reach your goal sooner than you expected.

Bottom line: we're all bound to fail at one point or another. But in the end, it’s about finding value in lessons learned and taking those lessons to the next level. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.