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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: What Is an Infographic?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and based on my research, I think that’s because the brain can process images more quickly than text. Images, the brain processes all at once, while text enters awareness in a linear fashion.

The Challenge

An associate, client, and friend of mine from college (all the same person) who edits and designs print books for a number of US government organizations and NGOs (including the World Bank, EU, and UN), came to me with a project involving “infographics.” Having only a cursory knowledge of the subject from commercial printing trade journals, I decided to do some research.

One of the first things I found was that the subway map in Washington, DC, which I had considered immensely useful and easy to read for the last 40 years, was an infographic, as were many of the graphics I had seen, increasingly, in all number of magazines. The concept was “hot,” so my interest grew as I read more. I wanted to know why they were so popular.

What Is an Infographic?

In Wikipedia, which is where I often begin my research on a topic, I read that:

“Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly. They can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends.”

(Doug Newsom and Jim Haynes (2004). Public Relations Writing: Form and Style. p.236.
Mark Smiciklas (2012). The Power of Infographics: Using Pictures to Communicate and Connect with Your Audience.
Heer, J., Bostock, M., & Ogievetskey, V. (2010). A tour through the visualization zoo. Communications of the ACM, 53(6), 59-67.
Card, Scott (2009). Information visualization. In A. Sears & J. A. Jacko (Eds.), Human-Computer Interaction: Design Issues, Solutions, and Applications (pp. 510-543). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.)

The Wikipedia article goes on to discuss how vast amounts of information can be conveyed through these charts/images. They can help readers grasp trends, and visualize relationships among various elements and processes. Due to the structure of the charts, the reader can know immediately what information is the most important, see how it relates to other information, and come away with not only data but also insight into a process (i.e., knowledge).

So it wasn’t all about presenting vast amounts of information; rather the goal was to give the reader an intuitive, visually-processed epiphany. Ironically, the article did note that an incentive toward using more and more infographics was the decreasing attention span of readers and the easy availability of infographic-creation software. To that I would add the increasing speed of business and life and the need for an immediate transfer of vast amounts of information into the human brain. After all, what better way to do this than visually (since vision is our primary sense).

Back to My Client’s Job

So in this particular case, my client the designer hired me to help prepare infographics for a major government organization. She needed me to help her come up with ideas and images, which she would then use to draw the graphics for the print book.

Here’s how I prepared for our meetings:

  1. I read all the descriptions of charts and graphics the author had provided. There were 11 for this particular booklet. The author had drawn rudimentary boxes and arrows, but for the most part his charts were text on a page, without imagery and without a clear presentation of the relationships among elements within the graphics.
  2. I read some short articles by the author describing his thesis, as well as two chapters from his booklet. From these I could wrap my brain around four or five concepts (and a general theme) within his work. Almost everything in the samples I read pertained to these few concepts, albeit in minute detail.
  3. I reviewed several hundred images of infographics through Google Images, and I sent links to about twenty of these to my client. I chose infographics that visually demonstrated linkages, directions, causality, and such. Most of the charts and graphs (or “seeds” for these infographics) the author had provided could be tied to (a) processes over time, and (b) certain processes that were more efficient than other processes. Therefore, these were the kinds of infographics I looked for in Google Images. I wanted to give my friend the designer some starting points for her creativity.
  4. I noticed that all of the charts/graphs (infographic prototypes) that the author had given my friend the designer lacked any imagery. So I made a list of several icons and images I thought might pertain to his thesis. Again, my goal was just to spark the designer’s creativity. But I did want her to make the infographics “personal.” I thought they should include some humanizing element, and not just words, boxes, and arrows.
  5. I encouraged the designer to identify key words in the text of the charts and graphs. If she highlighted them in some way (all caps, increased size, reversed type when other type was surprinted, etc.), she could identify for the reader which concepts were most important. (I told her it was like buying a “pre-underlined textbook” at a thrift store. You could read only the highlighted type and still get the gist of the chapter—but faster than by reading the whole print book.)
  6. I encouraged her to add arrows and any other devices she could find to show relationships among ideas. In one case, for instance, she used a winding road with various icons and text to show progression of ideas and activities over a period of time (kind of like a board game).
  7. I suggested that she make sure the graphics contained white (reversed type), black (thickened rule lines around boxes as well as enlarged black type, and gray (color screens within the boxes). These could be used to group elements (and distinguish one idea from another) since they created visual contrast.
  8. Then she noted that she had purchased a series of graphic images provided specifically for the creation of infographics. Combining these with the samples I had sent her of other people’s infographic work, the designer developed her own series of 11 draft infographics, which we then batted back and forth: modifying, amplifying, adjusting, and simplifying as necessary.

Now we’ll see how the client responds.

What You Can Learn

You might want to take a similar approach to creating infographics. I’ll bet that sooner or later you’ll be faced with this task. It seems to be the new wave of graphic imagery.

2 Responses to “Custom Printing: What Is an Infographic?”

  1. Jordan says:

    A good overview of infographics. They have tons of potential and can really help show information quickly and in an easy to understand format. Thanks for sharing this!

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I think we’re beginning to comprehend how the brain processes information. And given how much information we now need to absorb, this understanding of the brain is timely. I am intrigued by the way infographics can group bits of information and relate them to one another to both increase comprehension and improve retention.

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