Clueless about infographics
March 7, 2007 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently studying graphic design and I've been given a job creating infographics for a business magazine. I know my way around Illustrator but I don't really know anything about creating infographics.

They'll train me but I want to be as well prepared as I possibly can. So please tell me, how are infographics usually made?

Any tips you can give me or books you can recommend would be most welcome.
posted by nelle to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I've just started using Illustrator quite a bit myself, however the only real infographics I've done so far are road maps. From what I know about infographics is that it's quite large area of graphic design to pin down for advice, as it's used in so many subjects and with so many different cultural barriers and therefore so many different things to consider. Although I don't have any books that could help you I do know of a site that might provide you with a couple of resources on information graphics.

Have fun with your new job!
posted by Sevenupcan at 4:28 PM on March 7, 2007

I consider Edward Tufte to be a god in the world of infographics. I think his first book -- The Visual Display of Quantitative Reason -- is a must read for everyone that makes charts/graphs/infographics. I would like to say it is a must read for everyone, but it's a bit nerdy for most. I would say it should be read once, give it a month or two, than read it again. His other books are good, but mostly rehash the material from the first. His course is apparently great, but you can get the same material from the books.

This assumes you have taken at least a survey/intro college level course in statistics. If you haven't done that, go do it.
posted by fief at 4:38 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't get bogged down by the term. The goal of any image which conveys information and/or data is to do so in a way that is a) clear and b) easy to understand.

There are some key concepts in Tufte to grasp, without worrying about statistics. For example, small multiples.

For examples of how not, generally, to display data--consider the classic USA Today data graphs, which value kitsch and cuteness over clear representation of data.

Finally: know your audience. Why do they want to see the data? What are their goals for using the data? What the main points that the publisher wants to communicate via the graph/chart/graphic? And, to quote Kathy Sierra, how can the graphic you create and the data it communicates help the person kick ass?
posted by gsh at 5:02 PM on March 7, 2007

I was just going to recommend the book fief lists. It's like Strunk & White is for writers... not thrilling, but good for strong guidelines.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:03 PM on March 7, 2007

Seconding what fief said. Tufte is very informative and inspirational and the books are beautiful and lead by example. His website is also good, with lots of discussion and links.

These links might also be useful:

Information Aesthetics
Strange Maps

posted by dflock at 5:09 PM on March 7, 2007

You might also read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. Yes, it's about comics ... but comics ARE infographics. There's a lot of material on telling stories, making things iconic, etc.

It changed my life both as a graphic designer and a cartoonist.
posted by clango at 6:11 PM on March 7, 2007

I've also recently started a job where I have to design lots of tables and graphs. The books I've found most useful are Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten by Stephen Few (he also has a blog). This book has lots of practical tips on designing readable tables (e.g., when to use shading, gridlines, what's the optimal amount of white space to have between columns, etc.) and graphs (e.g., how thick should lines be, when to use colour, the types of graphs to avoid, etc).

The second book I recommend is Information Graphics: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference by Robert L. Harris. This is a like a dictionary in that everything is listed in alphabetical order. But what makes this book invaluable is the thousands of drawings. By studying this book you'll get lots of ideas how to present business data.

My third recommendation is The Chicago Guide to Writing about Numbers by Jane E. Miller. This book covers how to explain numbers to regular people.

You might also want to check out the Junk Charts website. It covers what not to do.

Also I'm not sure if Edward Tufte's stuff is very useful. I've found his books to be expensive, boring, and not very practical. There is some useful information, but you have to wade through lots of boring and irrelevant stuff. And there are other books (like Show Me the Numbers) that cover the same material.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 9:16 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

You might also want to check out the links on this previous Ask Metafilter thread:

Where can I find some great infographics?
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 9:26 PM on March 7, 2007

Another vote for Tufte. Read any of his books/website to get started.

Then look at USA Today and see why their infogrpahics are usually completely meaningless (as parodied excellently by The Onion in their Statshot feature).
posted by lodev at 1:52 AM on March 8, 2007

As well as Tufte and McCloud, check out anything by Nigel Holmes.
posted by ninthart at 3:21 AM on March 8, 2007

I'll umpteenth Tufte.
I've done a ton of infographics (a term that covers a wide range of things) You need to learn how to read the raw data you are provided. As Tufte points out, data will suggest it's best form for illustrating.

A good part of your job may be education. Amazingly, I've had executives give me data that was obviously best served by linear display (such as a time-line, for example,) insist that the data be put into a pie chart. Because they liked pie charts. You have to learn to explain the proper display of data to them. Hopefully, you won't run into these issues, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:36 AM on March 8, 2007

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