tags: 'infographics' 'graphic-design' '101'

Infographics 101


Infographics. They capture our attention with their bright colors and their, seemingly, simple messages. They are used for everything from publich health campaigns to instructions to putting together that bookshelf in a box you just bought. Because infographics are all about distilling information to a few key takeaways, you might think this makes them stronger as marketing devices than as a medium for academic communication, but infographics have a lot to offer!

If your data describes processes that take place in time or across space (so really any process), infographics can effectively communicate these progressions. Think about how much harder it is to give directions merely verbally than to pull out a Google map. There's a reason why we quickly reach for that map. Our brains process visual information more quickly and processing information both visually and verbally can lessen cognitive load. Using an infographic to convey your map-based data can allow you to leverage this visual processing.

Likewise processes of all types, whether human migrations or biochemical processes, are often cyclical or otherwise non-linear. Prose, on the other hand, is by nature linear. Why prose can describe non-linear relations, the only relation it can show is concatenation, one thing following another. Thus, prose isn't always ideally suited to capture the richness of the directionality of processes. Infographics, on the other hand, can leverage design elements like line and shape to literally show the viewer these extra dimensions.

Processes aside, infographics also allow you to leverage visual principles to perform many of the key "moves" of analysis you might perform in an essay. For example, grid layouts and hierarchies can be used to setup comparisons. Since prose alone only allows for sequential presentation of the events, places, people, etc. that you might compare, infographics as a medium have the advantage here. With an infographic you can literally place those objects side-by-side using design elements like alignment and shape to indicate similarity and color contrast and size to highlight difference.

Finally, the best infographics often read at diffent "levels". There's a gestalt that I as a viewer get in a quick glance. This is essential; if it's missing, I won't stop and give the infographic a second look. But this second look is where the infographic reveals its richness. Each shape, color, line, and placement is intentional and supports the argument. Thus, creating infographics benefits writers as well, presenting an opportunity to learn a new "grammar" for argumentation.


The world of visual communication is quite complex, but let’s break it down into what our goals are, what tools we might use, and what moves we can deploy to achieve those goals. Here, we focus mostly on supporting infographics, but this guide will easily translate to other use cases of graphic design!


So, what is your goal when designing a piece of visual communication? Well, just like in an academic essay, you are trying to lead your audience through an argument or message. When the information is presented in an intentional way, your message gets through more effectively. You don’t let words fall accidentally onto the page, and it would disorient your reader if sentences were placed in a random order, or if you included irrelevant evidence. Similarly, when you design your infographic, your goal is to orient your audience and lead their eyes through the information presented in an engaging and effective manner that clearly supports your argument. Your graphic design choices must not be merely aesthetic, but must play a functional role as well.

One last point before getting into the technical stuff: An infographic requires that you synthesize all of the complex information and data you have gathered into one single, digestible page. This actually requires a much deeper understanding of the material than if you were given 10 pages of text to communicate your argument. You have to choose wisely, and communicate effectively using the tools and moves listed below. You must strike a balance between presenting too much information that fails to ignite further curiosity, and too little information that leaves the audience questioning what the information is communicating.

achieve balance. Your entire composition as a whole must be balanced. and then, each part that makes up that larger whole must be balanced.

provide direction. Where does the audience look first? and from there, where do they go next? Engaging the audience and structuring their visual experience until the message as a whole is successfully perceived.

show relationships. To create associations between pieces of information, you can deploy hierarchy, alignment, contrast, proximity


there are a ton of infographic makers out on the web, but here's a list of the ones we love to use the most.


google slides.

adobe spark.

adobe photoshop.

adobe illustrator.

adobe indesign.

the noun project. This site gives you millions of public domain icons to use for your infographics!


sometimes called the visual elements and principles of design, these moves are at your fingertips when creating a piece of visual communication. Used skillfully, they support your argument. But if used without careful thought, they could sabotage your intended message.

line. straight, curved, thick, thin, solid, dotted, dashed, intersecting,

color. primary, secondary, tertiary, warm, cool, monochromatic, analogous, complimentary, triadic. hue. saturation. tone. associations.

shape. 2D. geometric, organic, line-based, color-based, space-based.

typography. serif, sans serif, slab serif, rounded, script, blackletter, decorative, abstract

form. 3D shape (height + width + depth). geometric, organic

texture. pattern-based, organic-based.

contrast. sets pieces of information apart, or draws attention through difference in shape, color, scale, layout, type, etc.

alignment. creates order and visually connects parts of your infographic. use a grid and its gutters to align relevant pieces of visual info.

proximity. creates associations between parts of your composition. putting information/graphics in closer proximity suggests a stronger relationship than ones farther apart.

repetition. provides emphasis and an implicit rhythm to the visual elements presented.

hierarchy. provides structure and guides audience through the information presented in order of importance. When looking at an infographic, you want the big message to be perceived within mere seconds, and you want the audience to be “hooked” into taking the time to read more detailed information. Hierarchy gives the eye the direction it needs to process complex visual information effectively. scale, color, contrast, shape, space, alignment, form. proximity.

assosications provides overall tone and implicit emphasis to argument through color, typography, shape, texture.

the anatomy of an infographic:

the grid the title the text blocks the data visualizations the icons the flow of information the call to action

my infographic checklist:



Additional Resources