Last Friday’s post on infographics got much more attention than I expected from an impromptu effort. It’s evidently a topic that resonates with all kinds of content creators, not just journalists. That being the case, it’s not really enough for me to say that infographics are useful and cool and that you need to use them.
That was the essence of a comment from JC
, who may or may not be a spammer (suggestion: never start a comment with “interesting post”). Whatever his motive for commenting, he had a good point: “How ‘bout some tips on getting started?” Or to put it another way: Enough with the lectures; show me how to do it!
Thanks to Scott Preusser and his brand-new blog, I didn’t have to search far or long to find useful infographic resources. After seeing my post, Scott wrote one of his own about how, among other online adventures, he did a search and came up with Angela Alcorn’s thorough overview, “10 Awesome Free Tools To Make Infographics.”
The articles and resources Alcorn cites are enormously informative, but almost too much so. It would be very easy to get overwhelmed by all the tools and techniques and impressive examples and simply give up on infographics.
As I wrote last week, though, infographics don’t have to be costly, complex, and super-cool. Just remember these key points:
- You don’t need to be a graphic artist. If you can work with one, great; but if not, you can probably find a simple way to produce the graphic on your own. You don’t need much graphic skill or expensive software.
- Even if it doesn’t result in a graphic, the exercise of visualizing your information will benefit you. The process will help you better understand your topic, and can highlight unsuspected gaps in your data.
Three Infographic Tips
There are probably more, but over the weekend I came up with three cheap and easy ways to produce infographics. The results won’t make you look like another Jess Bachman, but they will add value for your readers. In some respects, these suggestions are stunningly obvious. But in a way, that’s my point—if the benefit of using a simple infographic is obvious, why not do it?
Borrow an infographic. Why struggle to create an infographic if other people are willing to lend you theirs? Depending on your topic, you may be able to find what you’re looking for in the creative commons collections of Wikimedia or Flickr. Or, if you’re mindful of copyright rules, you can simply do a Google image search. When you find something that works for you, ask if you can use it. More often than not, you’ll find that people are willing to share their work in exchange for an author credit and a link back to their site.
Annotate an image. Using any number of photo-editing programs, you can add text and highlighting to an image to turn it into an infographic. Another approach is to use a browser plug-in like “Awesome Screenshot” for Chrome to annotate anything you find on the Web. Here, for instance, is an example of an annotated screen shot I created that shows how to download an image from PicasaWeb.
Make a flow chart. Though you could easily overuse them, flow charts can often clarify written descriptions of processes. You may already have a program to generate flow charts, like Microsoft’s Visio or the Omni Group’s OmniGraffle, but if not, there are a multitude of online options. One mentioned in Alcorn’s article is Creately. Another, which I used to generate the flowchart here, is Gliffy.
My flow chart may not have a sophisticated background or color palette, but for half-an-hour’s work and my first time using Gliffy, it’s surprisingly polished.
Again, the point isn’t the quality of the graphics. If that’s all you’re concerned with, stick with stock art. But if you want to help your readers understand what you’re writing about, even the most modest attempts to represent your ideas or data graphically will pay big dividends.
UPDATE: I’m happy to report that JC is not a spammer. Thanks, JC!