Empower your data with infographics

Infographics give an added dimension to textual information, as taxonomist and trainer Joyce van Aalten explains. Visuals provide powerful elements to get your message across--and they are not that hard to create.

Why is it so hard to remember the words of something you’ve read, but you can recall a picture in a split second? Your brain simply finds it much easier to remember something that you’ve seen, instead of something that you’ve read or heard. Or as the expression says, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. There are many ways to make your message more visual: Maps, charts, photographs, videos and graphic models bring an added dimension to textual information. In my work as a taxonomy consultant and trainer I regularly use infographics to visualise my message, whether that is the outcome of my analysis, the advice I want to bring across or to make complex stuff easier to understand. Infographics are my go-to tool when I have data that I want to turn into information that is easily and quickly understandable.


Infographics are a visual representation of information. Graphs and charts can communicate data such as figures, statistics and numbers. But infographics give more background and explanation to this data. Because we add context to data, I see infographics as visual storytelling. The precise definition of infographics is however somewhat diffuse. I’ve seen infographics that were not much more than a graph with a title. In my opinion the following elements should always be part of an infographic: a clear title, a short introduction, one or more visual elements guided with some short text and a conclusion/take aways for the reader. And don’t forget to mention the sources you’ve used. 

In practice, we see different types of infographics. Comparisons, timelines, maps, visualized numbers or a mix of these. Which type of infographic is best for you depends on the message you want to convey and the data you have. If you want to visualize differences in time, or an evolutionary process, a timeline would be the way to go. Perhaps you want to show growth in circulation of library materials and how a new service has been accepted by library clientele. If your aim is to describe one or more processes, such as explaining best practices when starting a library research project, a flowchart would make the most sense. If there is a geographical component, you put that on a map. This would be a good approach to showing locations of branch or campus libraries.

No matter what type of infographic you create, make sure you tell your story with a clear title, introduction, centre part and end. In that sense an infographic follows the same structure as any textual article. But beware of trying to tell too much: There is room for only one key message. All elements in your infographic should support this one key message. Be brave enough to leave things out. Don’t be afraid of blanks or not being complete. You can always choose to create a separate infographic for those.

How to create an infographic

The first step in creating an infographic is to decide on the key message of your infographic. What is the goal and audience? Secondly, collect and structure the data that you have access to and want to use. Check carefully that this data supports and explains your message. If it doesn’t, leave it out or gather more data. Then, decide what elements you want to use in your infographic. What type of graphics do you need, what are the (small) text parts, which icons you want to include?  Place these elements in a logical order for the reader/viewer.

It might depend on the goal of your infographic, but try to come up with something new, a surprisingly twist. That means that you should think out of the box. Be like Harry Beck in 1931. In that year Beck introduced the diagrammatic map of the London Underground in which the physical/geographical locations of stations were left out. The popular and many times copied map was born.

Perhaps needless to say, but also make sure your infographic is visually appealing. Even if you are not a graphic designer, there are some visual aspects to take into account. Keep it simple and clean, do not exaggerate with colours and fonts. If you use icons, which can be very powerful, make sure they have the same look-and-feel. A good source for free to use icons is flaticon.com. There are many tools like color wheels and font generators. When considering design elements, also look into the Gestalt principles.  Speaking of tools: There are a number of specialized infographics tools that you can use.  Visme, Venngage, and Piktochart to name a few. These are free to use infographic creator tools. They come with templates that you can use and therewith can be a jump start for your own infographic.

A powerful tool

 When you think your infographic is finished, always check that it tells the complete story. If so, you can distribute the infographic to your intended audience. Put it on a flyer, bulletin boards, on social media or on your library intranet. Make sure your infographic gets the attention it deserves.

An infographic can be a very powerful tool when communicating information. However, keep in mind that an infographic should support the message you want to bring across. Creating an infographic shouldn’t be a goal solely by itself. The biggest effort in creating a good infographic is not only to bring your message across, but also to keep the infographic as simple as possible.

Joyce van Aalten is an independent consultant and trainer at Invenier, specialized in findability and taxonomy projects. She is a frequent speaker at Taxonomy Boot Camp London and loves to share her knowledge via books, articles and courses at GO | School for Information.

Further reading

  • Infographics- The Power of Visual Storytelling by Jason Lankow, Ross Crooks, Josh Ritchie. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
  • Cool Infographics Effective Communication with Data Visualization and Design by Randy Krum. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.