Infographics are to data what storytelling is to an annual report: a more engaging way to help bring attention and understanding to your nonprofit’s cause. Yesterday we looked at an interesting infographic that suggested a new way to view your volunteers. Today, let’s look at infographics in general – and resources to help your nonprofit get started on making your own.
As Wikipedia explains, “Information graphics are visual devices intended to communicate complex information quickly and clearly”:
Information graphics or infographics are visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics are used where complex information needs to be explained quickly and clearly, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education. ... They illustrate information that would be unwieldy in text form, and act as a visual shorthand for everyday concepts...
For example, compare the Portrait of a Volunteer infographic we talked about yesterday with Pew Internet’s more conventional Portrait of a Twitter User, where a similar type of data is presented in a simple table. The stats are equally interesting, but the meaning they convey (a picture of a “typical” individual) takes a little more time and thought for the reader to extract and absorb.
Any time you can translate data into an infographic – a compelling visual representation – you’re making it easier for your audience to take in the meaning behind the numbers. In the words of CNN, “when it comes to making data sexy, you can't be too graphic”!
Getting Started with Infographics
If you’re not sure where to start to create your first infographic, remember that annotated maps, flow charts, graphs, many of the diagrams you may already be creating on the job can help your audience to see the meaning behind your data. Not sexy and artistic, you might think, but even a simple graphic is far more effective than asking your prospective supporters to study a spreadsheet – if done right!
Here’s a little help for figuring out what information you want to communicate, which data points to select, and how to present the numbers in a way that will be both accurate and accessible to numerically challenged viewers:
If your goal is to create an infographic so very cool that it’s bound to “go viral,” however, you’ll want to go well beyond the same-old-same-old bar chart. Here are some great sources of practical instruction and design inspiration for truly creative data visualizations:
If Graphic is Good... Interactive is Better
You’ll have noticed that Portrait of a Volunteer isn’t simply an artistic chart – it’s an interactive “action sheet.” Click through to the infographic to see how it works. You can pan and zoom around to view the whole thing. it’s an efficient way to get a large infographic into a small space on the screen, yes – but even more importantly, viewers are likely to spend more time exploring your content when they’re actively engaged with it in some way.
A fancy Flash presentation like those funded by Pepsi/GOOD might be a bit beyond the budget and tech resources of a small nonprofit, but don’t let that hold you back! A little imagination goes a long way, with the help of technology.
Tech tools for better infographics
Do take advantage of the tech tools you can find online to help automate the process of turning data into graphics. Some of the free and low-cost tools for data visualization are remarkably sophisticated and yet quite user-friendly. Here a couple of possibilities to consider:
- The New York Times’ Visualization Lab lets you create your own visualizations using data from news sources, using Many Eyes technology from IBM Research – or go directly to Many Eyes to use your own data.
- Tableau Public (free software to download and install on your computer, from Tableau Software) lets you create really stunning visualizations – for an example, see Annette Greiner’s The Geography of Diabetes: play with the sliders at the lower right to change what data is included on the map.
- Free and open-source Simile Widgets (Timeline, Exhibit, Timeplot and Runway web widgets for data visualization) are an exciting little spin-off from a project at MIT – and I can’t wait to find an excuse to use one or more of these on a website!
What other free or low-cost tools would you add to the list?
When it comes to pulling together the project, draw on the diverse talents of your members and volunteers as well as staff – for someone with a talent for design, this sort of creative project can be a refreshing change from stuffing envelopes! Or check with a local school or college to see if there’s a chance of a student project to create your infographic. You might even want to turn your data loose on the public and hold an infographic contest, online or offline or both – which can have the site benefit of bringing attention to your organization.
Consider: what graphics, photographs, etc. do you already have (or have access to) that could be put to work as part of a fresh infographic? And how might your organization be able to repurpose your online infographics for offline use, too – in your brochures, direct mail materials, conference presentations, and other communications opportunities?
Has your nonprofit created an infographic, to help explain your mission or to give life to statistics related to your cause?
As always, please share your tips and ideas in the comments!
Image credits: GDS Digital, stahlmandesign, c21realestate,
bschmove, The Lightworks, dougbelshaw via Flickr