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3 Reasons Why Most Infographics Suck

Infographics are bedeviling beasts. The best ones are simple, powerful, and easy to digest. But if they’re so straightforward, why do so many of them just suck? The answer lies in their complicated creation, a union of three separate crafts: writing, design, and statistics. Let’s dive into the suckage.

 

3 Reasons Why Most Infographics Suck

1. Writers like to write

One thing you’ll notice about many bad infographics is the sheer number of words on them—and that detracts from both the design and the overall message. The problem is that infographics start off as written documents. And writers are accustomed to filling a page with words. They’re good at this—trust me. But when it comes to infographics, less is infinitely more.

So when our writers hand in an infographic draft, my first major task is to cut, cut, cut. How much? I’d guess about 40–50 percent. Yes, that’s right. I frequently cut half of the words the writer hands in. Call it a sacrifice for the greater good.

Click through below to see how the editing process works in the top section of an infographic we did for Comcast Business:

 

2. Writers are not graphic designers

I love our writers (and we wouldn’t have a business without them), but they’re not graphic designers—why should they be? So when they’re writing infographic copy, they aren’t necessarily thinking “how will this look as a visual?” This is something we’ve worked with our writers on, over the years, and they’ve gotten a lot better at it. However, we still go through multiple rounds of editing with them before we hand the draft to our designers.

Here’s a paragraph that a writer sent to us in an early round of editing:

Collaborative picking aids.

An Amazon warehouse can hold more than 3.5 million SKUs, and can be the equivalent of 59 football fields in linear feet. Bots can save workers time and labor by either locating items in the maze of shelves and signaling via a lighting system, or by delivering “pods” containing the needed items for an order to a pack station for workers to pick from. In some cases, humans work alongside robots, picking items too heavy or too small for the robot to handle, while the bot then transports all the totes to the pack station.

Question: How in the heck is the designer supposed to create a visual around that?

Answer: They can’t. I either edit the paragraph or send it back to the writer with a helpful comment—something like, “How in the heck is the designer supposed to create a visual around that?”

3. Writers and designers are not mathematicians or data scientists

The best infographics simplify complicated statistics, relaying numerical information in an easy-to-read visual format. But therein lies another problem: the artists making the infographics usually are not trained in math or data science (again: why should they be?). This problem frequently manifests in two ways:

1. The writer doesn’t include stats in the draft

Writers love to ignore numbers—and that’s a problem when you’re creating an infographic. In fact, we’ve only encountered a few infographics in our career that did not rely on numbers and still conveyed a powerful message. It’s possible to pull it off, but it’s difficult and not recommended. After all, infographics are at their most powerful when they’re helping readers quickly and easily grasp complicated data or information—and that frequently revolves around research and survey data.

 

Check out this infographic that we did for Cathay Pacific that doesn’t contain a single statistic. I think we pulled it off. Pro tip: infographics are much easier if you have some juicy stats or data to build them around.

2. The designer doesn’t understand how to display the statistics

Let’s say you worked with your writer to ensure that juicy stats are included in the draft. Now it’s the designer’s job to figure out the best way to convey those stats. Should she use a bar graph or a pie chart? What if the survey participants were each allowed to select more than one answer, so the results don’t add up to 100?

Our designers are awesome and they’ve also become more accustomed to figuring this out as they’ve worked with us over the years, but we still help them wherever we can by brainstorming the overall concept with them and by suggesting types of graphs.

Check out how we develop a graph for another Comcast Business infographic below. Suggesting a pie chart to our designer frees her to focus on cool design rather than wasting time figuring out how to convey the stats.

Try Not to Suck

For something that’s meant to be digested by a reader in a minute or two, infographics are deceptively complex to build. To avoid infographic suckage, take time to help your writer and designer think through the visual concept of the piece ahead of time, and don’t be afraid to cut like crazy—at every stage in the process.

Need an infographic and don’t know where to start? Send me an email and I’ll help.

Emily Paterson

As CEO and creative director at Quatrain, I work with clients like Experian, EverFi, Inc. magazine, Virtru, and Liberty Mutual, helping them spread their message in the most compelling and creative ways possible. I also wrangle an amazing and rowdy team of writers, designers, coders, and videographers. We delight in creating really great stuff, getting it done quickly, and having a great time while we do it. What can we create for you?

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