I don’t like infographics. There. I said it. In writing for the whole world to see. Given the explosion of the infographic in communications today, it feels like heresy. So let me qualify that broad statement by telling you why.

The majority of infographics just don’t work well at communicating information. They’re cluttered, confusing and hard to work with. They look like someone created them because it is the cool thing to do not because they provide a better way of sharing knowledge.

Infographic done right by Paychex

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are four ways to make infographics better — even for someone like me:

1. Save the Cartoons for the Comic Section

The category is not, “graphicinfo.” That’s because the information is more important than the graphic elements. Don’t let artists over illustrate with cartoons and colors that don’t improve understanding or readability. The best design uses “white space” to make the information and graphic elements that matter stand out. That should be true for infographics, too.  EMA client, Paychex, gets it right in this infographic from the Huffington Post on small business use of mobile technology.

2. Offer a Second Format

Not everybody wants to view an infographic, and not all information you need to share presents well graphically or can be covered in an infographic. So it’s a good idea to offer a second format along with your infographic. A simple, “Click here for a 300 word summary of this infographic,” will ensure more users get your information. If a live link won’t work, include a URL that tells the reader where to find it on your site.

3. Keep it Short

Infographics that scroll on for what feels like a yardstick of space simply aren’t user friendly in any format – desktop, tablet or mobile. Users often want to reference back to something earlier in the graphic. Try doing that on your smartphone with a graphic that goes on multiple screens. Think of an infographic as a poster. Done right, your reader might even print it out and pin it in their workspace for future reference. Radian6 recently did that with information on social media metrics.

4. It’s the Information…

Infographics aren’t about putting lipstick on a pig. If your information isn’t new or relevant, then dressing it up with graphics isn’t going to make it any more meaningful.  Infographics should take complex information – most often data – and make it easier and faster to understand.

OK, so I don’t dislike all infographics, just the ones that are using graphics like a Halloween costume – to be something they are not. Don’t fall in to that trap. Follow my four tips and your hard work will stand a better chance of getting picked up by news media and bloggers.  And better yet, more users will engage with and share your information within their social circles.  More on that in a future post.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

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