Infographic Design 101: How to organize information to tell a story

Infographic design
Credit: pixabay.com

A good infographic design provides a clear structure for navigating information. Organizing information for easier navigation makes good design; your job is to help your readers digest without hard thinking. A good analogy of this task is airport navigation signage: when you arrive at an airport in a foreign country for the first time, the navigational signs are your life saver: without it, you’d struggle to even find your way out of the airport. 

airport navigation signage provides easy navigation without making you speak the local language
airport navigation signage provides easy navigation without making you speak the local language. Image source: Shutterstock

Consider this as the first step for your infographic design: find the best way to organise your information so that your readers won’t get lost, especially in a universally understandable visual language. Here is a tried-and-true framework called LATCH, created by TED conference founder and prominent information architect Richard Saul Wurman. LATCH stands for:

Location

Alphabet

Time

Category

Hierarchy

LATCH quote by Richard Wurman
LATCH quote by Richard Wurman. Designed with Visme

L for Location

 

Some information comes with geographical labels such as location-based survey, travel guides, census data, etc. If your data has geographical labels in it, consider organize your information by location. It can be presented as a map, in a bar chart, or line chart to give it visual clarity.

The key to organizing information by location is to reveal trends or draw comparison between different geographic areas. In a map form, you can use heat maps to reveal the density of information, or color-coded map chart to represent the severity of a problem.

An example of color-coded map chart from The New York Times on the Best and Worst places to grow up in New York City. Here income data is being categorized into 5 brackets and given a color each. At a glance, one can quickly tell which income level a neighborhood falls into.

location based infographic by New York Times demonstrate how to organize information by location
location based infographic by New York Times

 

A for Alphabet

 

As the name suggests, the alphabet method arrange information by the initial letter of the item name in their alphabetical order. Wurman recommends using this way of organization if there is a huge amount of information and no better classification system for you audience.

Alphabetical ordering can be found in online glossaries, dictionary, directory listing etc. When you have a long list of items to showcase that have clear relationships to each other, consider ranking them alphabetically. It is a rather user friendly way to display information because we are already used to alphabetically ordering in everyday life which makes it easy to understand.
Below infographic from MeTV on the A-Z of Batman demonstrates how you can apply alphabetically organization to your infographic. The key is to find the most relevant item for each letter from the alphabet that are tied together by the umbrella topic.

alphabetical infographic by MeTV network
alphabetical infographic by MeTV network

 

T for Time

 

Time as an organizing principle can be used very creatively. On a macro scale, we are already used to seeing this method in museum exhibition where an artist’s work is showcased as a timeline, and history books about how events unfold over time. On a micro scale, we can zoom in on a shorter time period, such as a day in the life of an individual.

 

Using time to organize visual information we can reveal trends, patterns and surprises in our data. In below infographic example done by Google News Lab and Truth&Beauty on the rhythm of food, you can have a bird view of the popularity of a food term over a decade, or zoom in on a particular month to see what people are searching for the most.

infographic design principal - organize information by time
Credit: Rhythm of Food infographic
Rhythm of Food infographic as an example of time based information organization

 

C for Category

 

Categories group elements by their commonalities. According to Gestalt principles for visual perception, our perceptual system tends to group elements that are related to each other by similarities.

Categories help us create a mental model to make sense of information. This method works particularly well for elements of no clear difference in importance, such as clothing items on an e-commerce site. 

If you are faced with an infographic design task to visualize all types of dogs, where would you start? What do you do if all dogs are of equal cuteness and deserve the same amount of attention? Below infographic on Dogs Evolution does the job fairly well by using categories. 

The communication goal here is not to reveal trends in dog popularity by location or over time, but rather to educate the audience on how dog breeds evolved. Category principal works well for this purpose.

 

Dogs revolution infographic showcase how to organize information by category
Dogs revolution infographic

 

H for Hierarchy

 

This principle of organization indicates hierarchical relationship between elements, such as severity of pain, least to the most expensive, or order of importance, etc. Compared to category, which is more used on items of nominal value, hierarchy can be used on items of quantitative value, such as numbers or units.

 

For infographic design, the most common of hierarchical visual representation is organizational chart. You can also visualise hierarchy on a scale, with a tree diagram, or a treemap. In the infographic below about Mobs of New York, the visual hierarchy clearly indicates the order of importance between different roles within the mafia.

 Mobs of New YorkI infographic as an example of how to visualize hierarchy information
Mobs of New YorkI infographic

Your Turn 

 

If you wish to deepen your infographic design skill by studying the LATCH framework, the original copy of Information Anxiety by where the term was first introduced. There are other easy-to-digest resources to on infographic design, such as this comprehensive free eBook on how to make an infographic.

 

Besides all this theoretical stuff, the important thing is to learn by doing. Share with us your experience below: have you tried above methodologies to organise your data? What is your experience with it, and what did you find the most challenging? And if you found other ways to structure information, please share with us too.

 

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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