Infographics are a useful tool for communicators to share complex data and information in a quick, easy-to-read format. Infographics can be beautifully designed works of art, pulling in a reader through storytelling and visual entertainment. And like art, infographics can be large, epic works, or small treasures.
While a massive infographic immediately arrests due to its overwhelming data content and creative approach, sometimes it can still fall flat by just being plain overwhelming. Some infographics communicate several data points when there’s really just one key point to be made, obscuring the real message. Remember the popular web design principle—offering your audience information sized to be a bite, snack, or meal—can also apply to infographics. Here’s how to know if a smaller infographic would better satisfy your audience’s appetite.
- Big infographics don’t display well on Twitter or Facebook, but that is where they are usually shared.
Sure, you can house an infographic on your website, and there’s always Pinterest, but your best connection with your audience is likely on Facebook or Twitter. Those platforms only allow a sliver of a large infographic to be displayed, and any user is going to have to really want to dig into a big data display to click through.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 5, 2016
Smaller infographics optimized to fit into social media image proportions in a legible form are much more likely to draw a reader in, and more importantly, convey the topline message without depending on the user to click through to expand a graphic. If you have multiple messages you want to communicate, develop a suite of smaller, bite-size infographics that work together. Five different graphics give you a workweek of beautifully illustrated social media content. Plus, they’re great to deploy during Twitter and Facebook chats.
- Infographics with too many pieces of information are difficult for readers to absorb.
Presenting information visually allows for information to be processed more quickly. When you try to communicate more than three key pieces of data through an infographic, you run the risk that your audience will fail to absorb any of the information. In a time when people’s attentions span are increasingly short, your infographic should be tight, focused, and highlight only key information. By choosing up to three key pieces of information, you increase the chances your message will be remembered.
- Lengthy infographics are very difficult for users to print.
Have you ever spent months planning, designing, and clearing an infographic, only to find that there’s no way to share hard copies with attendees at a big event? Massive infographics are difficult to print, as they are usually much longer than legal or 11×17 standard paper sizes. Print jobs have to be customized, and run through a print shop. While this is not a completely prohibitive cost, it can be difficult for offices with smaller budgets or partner organizations in communities to be able to replicate. Smaller infographics can be planned to print well on standard paper sizes, and can be produced by most in-house printer-copiers in minutes. And forget about making a big infographic into a GIF or video graphic, but smaller executions will work well in animated formats.
Have you ever tried to look at a large infographic on your phone? It’s nearly impossible and involves a lot of expanding and zooming. No one has the patience for that. If you design your infographic to be device agnostic and viewable on a variety of devices, you will better serve your audience.
This is also another reason to make sure the infographic you share on social media isn’t huge. You can bet most of the people viewing your infographic on social media are attempting to view it on their mobile devices. By sharing smaller, snackable infographics, you remove any device-specific barriers to sharing your message with your audience.
- Long infographics on Pinterest are still a PITA. Yes, you can see the whole thing, but it’s hard to read the (often) small print.
Some readers might argue, “But Pinterest is the perfect platform for sharing large infographics!” It’s true, Pinterest’s spare, gallery presentation does lend itself to showcasing graphics in their entirety, and can be a great place to really show off the mad graphic design skillz that your team dropped. But while people are admiring your sweet font choice and color palette, no one can read your text or decipher any of the data and information without clicking all the way through. Two clicks = huge audience drop-off. A smaller infographic, or multiple smaller designs, can still convey beauty and artistry while also carrying your message through.
- The key takeaway (or the call to action) is buried and hard for the reader to find and execute.
Trying to get users to sign up for a service, download resources, change behavior, or apply for a program? You need a strong call to action in your infographic. Typically, infographics make a data-driven argument and end with a call to action or persuasive conclusion. The longer the infographic, the harder that key point can be to find, and you risk audience drop-off if it takes them too long to get there. Identify the key takeaway and make it prominent and clear in your infographic. Shorter infographics that get right to the point keep things focused on the desired impact and outcome.
- Unwieldy infographics are difficult to repurpose.
Create once, publish everywhere. Developing and approving an infographic for use can be a long process. You want to make that infographic work for you as much as possible. But if it’s a long piece that can’t be broken down into smaller pieces, you limit your ability to repurpose the infographic for other purposes, such as in PowerPoint presentation presentations, social media, email and print distribution, marketing materials, and more.
- Smaller graphics offer better ROI.
Nothing is more disappointing than sinking huge investments in time and resources into a design project that doesn’t ultimately result in meeting your goals. Before you embark on an infographic project that becomes all-consuming in terms of budget or staff time, weigh hefty development costs against the likely use of the graphic. If it’s your first attempt at an infographic, starting small can be a great way to benchmark the return, with a small initial outlay of effort. You can always ramp up from there if needed.
- It’s easier to respond quickly and be in the moment with a bite- or snack-sized graphic.
At any large organization, accuracy of data is of paramount importance — for good reason. However, this can often translate into several rounds of approval and revision before an infographic is ready for public consumption. If you’re wedded to creating long infographics, get comfortable, because you’re gonna be here a while. Shorter infographics including fewer data points can usually be approved in a more timely fashion. This means that infographics can be created to respond to breaking news, emerging trends, or other quick-turnaround needs. You can even think outside the data box, creating infographics that contain a quotation or other simple text statements that make an impact.
Sara Smith (@CrocollSmith) is the Social Media Strategist for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Anne Rancourt (@annerancourt) is a Communications Section Chief at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID); both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (All references to specific brands and/or companies are used only for illustrative purposes and do not imply endorsement by the U.S. federal government or any federal government agency.)