Infographics are graphics specifically designed to communicate complex concepts in an easy to understand manner, using a combination of graphics and text, and sometimes just graphics. My favourite infographic designer at the moment is Leon Mussche, a Dutch illustrator and designer who has worked on high profile infographics including aircraft safety cards for KLM (see images at left). I had the joy of seeing these safety cards in the flesh on my recent KLM flight from Europe (it was an expensive gallery visit though, about $1,800 or so!).
Although I say he is my favourite infographic designer at the moment, I have actually seen other examples of infographics that I prefer more artistically. The problem however is that I just can’t locate any one artist who created them… they are just snippets here and there in vintage instruction manuals. For my taste, Mussche has given the figures just a tad too much character and individuality, they need to be stripped back more to being mannequins like real utilitarian infographics, but so far they are the best I have been able to pinpoint the artist for. To me an infographic has to be as utilitarian and non-‘artistic’ as possible, just like the perfect isometric drawing.
Colour and shape are vital in building infographics. In these examples, there are two strategies going on with regard to colour. First, like elements are grouped into one colour group, for example blue, in which exist two or three tones of blue. This indicates they are part of the same group, but each of the tones are different aspects in that group. Here visual art and information have a lot of similarity. In visual art we need to group like elements together, say for example a chair is one group or element, but we need to within that grouping separate out aspects of that chair through tones – lights and shadows for example, or textures etc.
Likewise with the information in an infographic, first we separate out the main grouping, for example ‘Types of transport people use’ and then within that group there are different aspects to separate out, such as car, bus, bike etc. This is not so surprising, visual art is just a form of communication, and the colours and tones used are just pieces of information fed to the viewer to tell them what it is they are looking at. Just like an infographic. It is just that a Picasso is a more complicated infographic then a KLM Aircraft Safety Card.
In addition to using colour variations to group like objects, contrast colours are used to highlight vital information. For example, in the KLM safety card, the door is highlighted in contrasting yellow in sections explaining how to use the emergency exits, and the ramp is highlighted in sections explaining how to vacate the craft.
Consistency and repetition is necessary in infographic ‘comic strips’ such as aircraft safety cards. Aesthetically, it is important to always use the same colours and shapes to communicate a particular object or place, repeating as much as possible from panel to panel, altering just enough to communicate whatever it is that is different from the previous graphic. This highlights the changes from panel to panel, thus allowing the message of the story to be clearly read across the page simply through the changes.
The key in all infographics is communication, not pretty graphics. Graphics are minimal and ornamentation is a strict no. Think modernism, minimalism. The point is to remove all distraction from the graphic, keeping only the key information required. The beauty of good infographics come from their minimalism. To achieve this clean cut lines, and solid colours or gentle gradients are best, as they provide little ‘distracting’ texture and flaws. Computer generated is best.
Lastly, information is key to an infographic. Research. Get hard evidence and numbers and measurements. Bring together correct colour grouping, consistency and repetition, communication, minimalism and information and you’ve got the building blocks of a great infographic right there. Bonus points if you use pastel colours and make it look like it’s been pulled out of an early 80’s instruction manual!