The first part of the Data Storytelling series discussed the value of honing your craft when approaching data visualization. I touched briefly on the imperative of plotting out your infographic before creating it, noting that you should have some sense of a beginning and a conclusion. This time, I propose a journey to unpack this idea. To be champions of data visualization, you must understand how the basic grammar of storytelling will enable you to create not just visual content, but shareable stories. As in many other unexpected places, narrative archetypes can be applied to the process of infographics creation.
You might have heard of the hero’s journey narrative archetype before. Even if you haven’t, you already know it well. The formula can be broken down into four overarching parts:
Part I: Call to action.
Part II: Supreme ordeal/initiation.
Part III: Unification/transformation.
Part IV: The hero’s return.
You might be surprised by how many popular stories follow this formula. To illustrate the concept of the hero’s journey, all you have to do is take a look at one of our favourite modern mythologies and an often quoted example of the hero’s journey: Star Wars. Episode IV, obviously.
When approaching data visualization, the hero’s journey can be used to create infographics. Creating visual content can be daunting for the inexperienced—luckily, there are tools to aid you on your journey.
Part I: Call to action—why you should make infographics.
The call to action can come at any time: you might be working away at your desk when your project manager approaches you; you might be at home in your pajamas brainstorming an article for your blog. Either way, you’re looking at a set of data and you think to yourself, “This would look great as an infographic.” You have just received the call to action.
So, what will you do now, hero? Will you accept or refuse? Yes, infographics take some extra time to design and create, but the payoff is worth the effort. Infographics have been shown to grow traffic to businesses by 12% more than businesses that don’t use infographics. Using an infographic as anchor content for a blog post will create condensed and shareable content that can be recycled moving forward. Content consumptions works in a top-to-bottom movement—if you provide the key information in a visually interesting infographic, readers will be able to quickly and readily engage with the content. Once they have been given a taste of the information, they will be more likely to want to learn more.
Creating an infographic can also help you identify key ways to focus your content. Creating an infographic will force you to think about who your target audience is so that your design can cater to their interests. What tone should you use? What kind of images—funny or topical? Focused content is strong content.
A good place to start is with your title. Your title will be what contextualizes your information, so make it descriptive and as to-the-point as possible.
Part II: Supreme ordeal/initiation—learning to wield infographics tools.
You have decided to take on this journey but you lack the right tools. This is the point where you need to find your mentor to guide you on the first steps of your journey. This is where finding a good infographic app to create your infographic will guide you forward. Infographic software will typically have a number of infographic templates organized into types to aid your decision of how to plot your data visually. Choose your template wisely, my young padawan, as this decision will greatly impact how effectively your information is communicated. You will also need to choose what types of charts will best illustrate your data.
At this stage, you will want to start thinking about who you want on your team to see your visual content through. Who will be able to provide you feedback on your infographic, to make sure that the message comes across? Also, who can you contact to help share your content when the time comes? Contacting them ahead of time will allow you to plan for any specific requests they might have in terms of your design. They may also have some information of their own that they would like you to include.
You will also want to start thinking ahead about how you can integrate your infographic with other content on your site. Would your content benefit from a matching banner? Is there a specific stat you can pull and feature in a separate graphic for Instagram or Twitter, linking back to your infographic?
Part III: Unification/transformation—trial and error.
You’ve found an infographics app that you can use as a platform for your design. You have identified your target audience. You are flanked by teammates you will help you throughout the creation and publishing process of your visual content. Now the time has come to create your infographic.
Remember that while templates are a great starting point, you shouldn’t be afraid to deviate from the formula and customize your graphic. That’s how great stories are made, after all–by taking a spin on a classic story in order to make it new. Don’t be afraid to take out elements of the infographic template and to insert your own—this could involve integrating interactive elements like polls or even videos, or it could involve changing the colour scheme and font style.
Show your infographic to some friends and take note of their emotional response. Are they amused? Angered? Apathetic? Hopefully not the last one, since you always want your visual content to inspire emotion. If your infographic is too confusing, or if it’s lacking in interesting information and statistics, you will want to re-evaluate your design and content. If part of your original design ultimately doesn’t work, at least you will have that knowledge of where it went wrong to add to your arsenal for your next infographic.
At the end of the creation process you will emerge with the reward of a complete and polished piece of visual content. Once you have achieved that satisfaction, what you choose to do with your infographic will determine its ultimate value.
Part IV: The hero’s return—plugging your visual content.
You’ve done it. You’ve created your concise and evocative infographic and you’ve published it. Your journey is over now, right? Well, no. You’re still out in the wilderness and you need to make the journey back home. This is the final stage of the hero’s journey and it is no less important than the first.
As nice as it would be to publish your infographic and be done with it, you want to make sure it doesn’t immediately get lost in the ether. Successful circulation of your infographic requires promotion. That’s why you it is important to not forget this step when plotting your infographic.
As I mentioned in Part II, even in the early stages, think about what channels you will use to broadcast your content to the world. If your infographic is about education, you could submit it with an accompanying article to a teaching blog. If your infographic presents data about your nonprofit organization, how can you integrate it in your campaign’s social media content?
Keep things open-ended.
What you have probably gathered from everything so far is that when it comes to visual content, it’s a good idea to keep things open-ended. There is no reason why an old post can’t still garner more shares and click-throughs months after it has been posted. Keep stock of your visual content in case you ever come across an external article that could you suggest would be augmented by an infographic. For example, a curated post pulling infographics from different sources would only benefit from including yours as well, wouldn’t it?
Just as you would retell a story, re-share your visual content. Journey onward!