What is good information design?

Data visualisation has become very popular on the web, with infographics on the rise. What actually makes a good piece of information design?

 What is good information design?

Infographics are on the rise, but what actually makes a good piece of information design? By our very own senior information designer, Andrew Park.

Information design and data visualisation have become very popular on the web in recent years. With so much information and data available to us now via the internet, info-design is a great way to make the virtual maze of facts and figures digestible.

The 3 As of infographic best practice

So how do you know if what you’re doing is really effective? When assessing how successful a piece of info-design is, ask if it fulfils these threes As:

  • Is it accurate?
  • Is it accessible to the viewer?
  • Is the design aesthetically pleasing?

If the visualisation meets all these objectives, chances are you’ll have a good piece of information design in front of you. Now let’s look at each of these three in turn…

Accurate

Accuracy is probably the most important factor in successful information design. If the information you are using is untrustworthy, out of date or incomplete, creating a sound piece of info-design is impossible. Check:

  1. Do you have reliable sources for data and content? 
    Make sure all sources for statistical data and written content are reliable. Examples of reliable sources would be government agencies, educational institutions, health agencies or financial institutions. All sources used to create the infographic or data visualisation should be listed.
  2. Are your stats current? 
    If a data set is a few years old, always check to see if there has been an updated version released.
  3. Do you have proprietary data you can use? 
    A business’ or publisher’s own data set used in an infographic gives a unique angle and fresh statistics.
  4. Are you bending the data? 
    The designer and/or business should never bend a data set to better suit their preconceived objectives or design. 

Accessible

One of the main purposes of info-design is to communicate data or concepts in a user-friendly format.

An info-designer needs to represent the information in a way that makes it possible for the reader to gain an insight they wouldn't get from written word alone. Simplicity is the key.

  1. Make complex information more digestible 
    The fundamental purpose of info-design is to make complex information easier for a reader to digest.
  2. Don’t confuse the viewer 
    If the graphing technique or visual metaphor used is overly complex and confuses the viewer, the infographic fails to fulfil it's purpose. An info-designer should always think about the correct graphing technique for the data set and whether an illustration or icon enhances the visual message.
  3. Know the target audience 
    Where is the infographic going to be used? To back up a blog post, as part of a company report, or to support an editorial news story? The design and tone should reflect the end use and the audience it’s aimed at.
  4. Make sure you’re adding something 
    If the infographic or piece of data visualisation is being used to support a news story or blog post, it should enhance the message and add extra insight.

Aesthetically pleasing

Though the main objective of a piece of info-design or data visualisation is to communicate information in a clear way, this doesn't mean that it can't look beautiful as well.

An infographic may have a great data set behind it and insightful copy, but if it is ugly and poorly designed, the viewer will be less inclined to interact with it.

  1. Draw the viewer in: As with any other piece of design, an infographic should be visually enticing enough to catch the eye of the reader and draw them in.
  2. Visuals should not distract the reader 
    All visuals used in a piece of info-design should have importance and meaning – they should all contribute to the communication of meaning to the viewer. Avoid tacking on extra illustrations or visual assets which don't help to communicate the data and content behind the infographic.
  3. Highlight key trends in the data 
    One of the great strengths of information design or data visualisation is that it can help to show interesting trends in a data set that may have been lost in a spreadsheet.