Hi everybody. Payman here. This is part five of the six-part series on A Beginner’s Guide To Creating Shareable Infographics. As you know in the last few episodes, I talked about the brainstorming process before you create your infographic, the types of infographics and also, how to actually design it.
Today we’re going to be talking about one of the important factors in putting key elements in infographics. And that is How to Create Persuasive Charts and Graphs. Now, when it comes to charts, it kind of deserves its own series, its own book and there is a lot of information to go over but what I’m going to do is I’m going to promise you, I’m going to break it down into easy, short, snackable video today that in about 10 or 15 minutes, you will get a good grasp and understanding of how to include and integrate charts into your infographics and perhaps your presentations, reports and so on. I’m going to show you how to tell stories through data today.
Here is the thing, this is you. And that actually used to be me as well. Because most communicators are pretty much scared of numbers. Now, that is a huge amount of volume, there is a lot of volume of data that we have to deal with. You sometimes have to have large excel sheets with a lot of tabs and how do you actually correlate and make it understandable and actually tell stories through it. And often people run away from it but there really is a way around it. And today’s era you really can’t run away from it because you need to embrace data and use it to tell stories. In fact, you could think about journalists today, there isn’t a day goes by that I look at CNN, Fox and other articles that are present on those sites and as I scroll down, there is always different volumes of data that are actually visualizing to charts and graphs. So it is a part of visual communication. You really got to embrace it. Embrace it and not run away from it.
Step 1: Resist the Urge to Immediately Choose a Chart
Let’s talk about the different steps. There are four steps I’m going to talk about today. Number 1, before you select the type of chart before you actually start inputting your data into a chart, you got to understand what you want to do. Step 1, you got to resist the urge to immediately choose a chart. Very similar to how when you want to create a presentation or infographic, you first have to brainstorm and get things together and then dive into the actual creation process.
The Four Types of Charts
Let’s talk about the next thing. Now, in terms of this is kind of a cross-section, it’s four quadrants and it’s about the four types of charts that you can create. There are many different types of charts but it actually falls into any of these four. And the question you want to ask yourself first is that, is the information data-driven or is it conceptual? And also, is it declarative or is it exploratory? Because with that, you create this cross line and there is a quadrant. And depending on what quadrant you fall into, (and I’ll show you in a little bit) you’ll be going to decide the type of chart you are going to use.
For example, if you are explaining a concept, you will be going to be in the lower left quadrant and vise and so on. That is how you do that. This cheat sheet is very valuable and it is going to be included at the bottom of this video and this page and also in the e-book, there is a link down below that you can download it and put it to good use because every time you want to create a chart, I highly recommend that you tap into that first.
Step 2: Consult For Context Before You Start
Step 2, you got to consult for context before you start. What does that mean? It is often an overlooked step in the creation of chart and graphs. And what you need to do first is take a little time, perhaps just a few minutes and then think about the actual context of the visualization you are going to create. When we talk about context, we are talking about the circumstances that form the setting of your data.
Who is your audience?
This brings me to a few questions you always have to ask yourself. It is actually very similar to a presentation series that I did where before you put together your presentation, you go through this process of asking yourself a few questions. First, you got to know who your audience is. Who is your audience because based on the type of audience that you’re going to be presenting to, it helps you to approach in a manner that resonates with them.
What do you want your audience to know?
Second is what do you want your audience to know, depending on what you want them to know. What do you want to inform them allows you to start a certain type of discussion or topic. That is second.
What setting will this be used in?
And number three is you have to establish the actual setting that will be used in. Is this for an event or a conference? Is this chart going to be a front facing, let’s say for sales and marketing purposes or is it for internal within your organization? Or perhaps is it going to be shared on social media or on your website. Depending on either one of these, the way that you put the chart together or the volume of data that you are going to present, it actually reflects on the setting that they will be used in. You want to take that into consideration as well.
How can you use your data to make this point?
And the responses to those questions will actually lead us to this last question. And that is how can you use your data to make this point?
Step 3: Define the Focus of the Graphic and the Story You Want to Tell
Now, step 3, you have volumes of data and again, you may have an excel sheet with hundreds of columns or rows of data, many tabs. Your audience doesn’t really care about that. What matters at the end is how you summarize and how you make allow them to understand that. What you got to do is you got to focus and define the focus and ask yourself, how can I summarize this data? How can I make it snackable and easy to understand? This leads us to step 3, and that is to define the focus of the graphic and the story that you want to tell.
State your unique point of view
You got to state your unique point of view. Now your audience actually often respects who is interested at least in opinion you have to present. What you want to do is also back it up with facts when possible and of course in that case, you often want to back it up with data since we are talking about charts and graphs.
Define what’s at stake
Additionally, you want to define what’s at stake.
It must be a complete sentence
And then also, what you want to do is it must be a complete sentence. When I talk about a complete sentence, the actual chart that you are going to be creating or the graph, you want to have a headline. And on top of that headline, you almost want to ask a question or state in the sentence.
Let’s look at a couple of examples. I’m going to show you a few before and after. The key to effective communication, you got to hone in on your main message. So make your key points stand out, and also When do People Buy on our Website? This is the title of this graph here. It asked a question, it is a full sentence, When do People Buy on our Website? And if you look below, there are a lot of different elements to this. There is women’s and men’s, I don’t know, is that women’s shoes? Is it men’s pants? It does not define that. So there is problem number 1 there.
Number 2, there is a large legend here and above it, there is actually number of different rows or segmentation of the data in different colors. It is not terrible but the fact of the matter is, just stare at this for about 15 seconds or so. Do you fully understand it? Let’s simplify this a little bit. Let’s look at another example. It’s the same information but has been simplified. Same title, but in this case what we are doing is we are grouping those segmentation into just four quadrants. And you can clearly see that the blue area which is about 12 to 6 pm and between 12 to 6 pm, the women and men’s apparel are most often bought on this website. And what we have done is, we actually eliminated the legend. And we have actually brought that into the chart itself. This allows you to more easily, in a snackable manner understand this graph. If you look at it again, this is easy to understand of course than the last example. Same data, same information but you are focusing on the main elements.
Step 4: Use Physical Markers, Pencils and Paper to Storyboard Your Idea
Step 4 is use physical markers. Pencils, and paper to storyboard your idea. I’m going to show you this next cheat sheet. And it is going to look a little complicated. Don’t worry about it. It is actually pretty easy to understand once you dive in. Now what you want to do is matching some of the keywords that I listed in the last example earlier in that four quadrants and you want to summarize it into this next visual. Let’s take a look at it.
Now, again, don’t be afraid. There’s a lot going on here but in the center is where you are going to look. Look for the center and actually work your way and by following this guideline, this workflow, it allows you to determine the type of chart that you can use. Ok, so let’s hone in a little bit deeper. If you look in this one, we have comparison, let’s just say that you have a composition chart. What you want to create, let’s say it’s a composition and then it is going to be static data and then if you come down a little bit further, you come down is going to be shares of pieces of a whole. In this case, it could be a pie chart. So this is a great example that allows you to, by having this cheat sheet, I highly recommend you download it and every time you want to create a chart, you actually go in and follow this guideline. Again, you can download it as a PDF, there is a link provided below and you will be able to use that in every single visual report chart that you are going to create.
Step 5: Refine Your Chart By Decluttering
Step 5, refine your chart by decluttering. Again, simplify it. Simple-simple versus complex. It involves arranging elements and you want to direct your readers to perceive them in a certain order. Let’s go through a few examples. But before that I’m going to show you how you actually segment your data. Your visualization should be well structured. Imagine this slide here, imagine this is the real estate for an actual graph. Title, Subtitle, Content and there is the Footer. In fact, it is very similar to the last episode that I did on how to design your infographic where we talked about there is a header area, there is a body and there is a footer to your infographic. Very similar. But what you want to do is you only want to have about 20% so that 12% or so for your title and subtitle about 8%, again let’s just say about one-fifth of the total real estate of the top area for the chart header and subheader and then for the down would be the main or the mid of it is going to be the chart itself and at the bottom is going to be the footer. And that is where you are going to have the sources of the data that you are presenting.
Most important of these elements
Now, let’s talk about most important items of the chart, in other words when you are presenting something, you want to allow the users’ eye to go towards the focal points. This is a chart about Non-Mortgage Debt Outstanding. And if you look at it, this is like a personal debt in different individuals. And when you look at this, there are five different lines, and in different colors and you really don’t know which one to look at. But perhaps in this case, what you want to do is you want to concentrate on the student debt. If you look at this next example, what’s happen is everything else has been moved into the back. Meaning by graying out the legend, graying out the other lines and the only one is the blue one, that is actually sticking out, that is the student loans and you can clearly see that that is easier to understand. So you focus on that. What we have done is actually push all the chart elements to the background, applying the gray color and then we have used different design techniques to make the item, in this case, using color to stand out.
Use only two to three colors to highlight important points
And let’s look at this one. You want to use only two to three colors to highlight important points. This chart here using complementary colors. There was another episode that I covered about how to use complementary colors. And in this case, you can clearly see that it’s easy on the eye and also we are highlighting the key points there.
Additionally, you want to use only two or three colors to highlight important points, very similar to the last one. And this is just a different type of chart.
Do away with chart gridlines and borders
And also, what you want to do is you want to do away with chart gridlines and borders as much as possible. It’s okay to have them but when you can, try to eliminate. Because again, it is about simplicity, it is about allowing your user and their eye to concentrate on something. As an example, this is the Slow Comcast Speeds Causing Netflix Customers, this is a whole story going on over the number of years. There is a lot about it in the news and basically, there is this battle between Comcast and Netflix. And what happened was came February 2014 Netflix actually are now paying Comcast to directly connect to its network. And so as a result, what happened was it cost the number of calls to Netflix for slow network complains that actually drop.
So what’s happened is we eliminate the legends, the gridlines and we just concentrate on this vertical line showing the February 2014. So that’s what that is showing you.
Limiting eye movement from one end of the chart to another
Also, the other one is to eliminate legends when possible. Legends are okay, but if you can, eliminate them. Because what you are doing is you are allowing users to focus on one element versus going back and forth between them. Here is an example of that’s been cleaned up. It actually has gone from a pie chart to an actual bar chart format. And if you look at it, you have taken the legend out and we have the percentages clearly shown over the colored areas and so what you are doing is you are limiting the eye movement from one out of the chart and of the other chart to the other. And what we have done is also label the segments, the lines or the bars directly.
Those are a few examples that gives an idea as far as how to create charts and graphs. Now, I am talking about in an infographic series here, but really at the end of the day, the same principles that I provided to you, you can follow it through for individual charts whether you want to embed it to a report, infographic or presentation.