Most marketers probably remember the golden age of infographics. About a decade ago, it seemed that every company or design agency out there was using infographics as part of their marketing efforts. They were flooding our social channels, our inboxes, and our news feeds. At the time, the value of infographics was clear: they were highly shareable content that cut out excess text for audiences whose attention spans were getting shorter all the time.
Our own company was born just as this trend was taking off. In fact, we were founded in 2010 as a design agency called Killer Infographics.
Within two years we had expanded our service offerings to include other types of visual content, such as motion graphics, that were increasingly in demand. And that trend has continued. In the last several years, the marketing ecosystem has certainly witnessed a shift toward a broader variety of visual content — from interactive experiences to augmented reality to motion graphics and video.
But does that mean that infographics are no longer a relevant or popular type of content? And, looking ahead into next year, what will marketers working in 2020 need to know about when, why, and how to use infographics effectively as part of their overall content strategy? Let’s take a look.
Infographics Are Still Alive and Well
Firstly, let’s address the question of whether anyone is still using infographics. The answer is a resounding yes.
Nonprofits like the National Endowment for the Arts and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum still see infographics as a fundamental medium for sharing their successes and maintaining accountability to the people they serve.
Online learning platform Course Hero uses infographics as an educational tool, Netflix uses them to share data on what their users are watching, and REHAU’s infographics explain the many applications of the materials they develop. In each of these cases, infographics are the ideal medium for sharing data in a visually compelling way or for explaining the value of their products.
Meanwhile, media outlets such as The New York Times still rely heavily on infographics and data visualizations to tell their stories. In fact, at this year’s GeekWire Summit, Marc Lavallee, head of research and development at the Times, talked about the many ways in which the publication is exploring new, innovative ways to tell stories visually through everything from augmented reality to data visualization to infographics.
Above, Marc discusses a 3D visualization the Times created of the damage to the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris shortly after the devastating fire there on April 15, 2019.
In short, infographics still have broad applications — they’re just not the only way for brands to tell data-powered stories. Sure, you’ve seen a broader variety of visual content out there. But that’s not because people aren’t making infographics. It’s because we’re producing and sharing more visual content overall, and because we have more options than ever.
In fact, it’s the infographic design agency — not the infographic — that has become a thing of the past. Today, organizations are telling their stories with the help of visual communication agencies. These are organizations that are specially equipped to build goal-oriented visual strategies that combine multiple mediums.
These types of agencies are occupying much of the space that the traditional marketing agency once occupied — another major shift. Because marketers want to create a larger variety of visual content, they are increasingly seeking out expert content creators to deliver what they can’t create in-house. And they’re going directly to those experts. That’s because not many marketing agencies are equipped to make interactive infographics, augmented reality experiences, or motion graphics in-house.
A Shift Toward Quality
During that golden age of infographics we mentioned earlier, organizations were eager to produce as many infographics as possible — often at the expense of quality. They would use stock images and icons. They would opt for DIY tools rather than hiring an infographic design agency. And meanwhile, they would often fail to follow visual communication best practices, such as minimizing text.
As a result, the internet was flooded with cookie-cutter examples of visual content that claimed to be infographics but were often populated with paragraph-long blocks of text, and couldn’t really make meaning with the visuals that were included.
Since then, marketers have witnessed a substantial shift toward prioritizing quality over quantity. In the last decade, we’ve seen the advent of such visual platforms as Instagram and Snapchat, and the dominance of YouTube. Our audiences are more visually literate than ever. They can recognize content that wasn’t crafted with care, and they don’t have time for it. There’s way too much other great content they could be engaging with instead.
This shift has most certainly affected how marketers should be utilizing infographics in 2020. The era of mass-production is gone. Any marketer who still prioritizes quantity over quality risks producing infographics that actually hurt their organization. That’s because poorly made content can make it appear that your company doesn’t care about quality — and that can drive assumptions about your products and services, as well.
When an Infographic Is More Than an Infographic
Another key factor differentiating infographics in 2020 from infographics in 2010 is that they’re not just the traditional, long-scroll, static images that you may have grown used to seeing. As marketers have discovered new applications for them, they’ve come to take many forms. Here are just a few.
Social-Media Micronarratives & Mini-Infographics
Social-media micronarratives primarily take the form of bite-sized infographics. They generally focus on just one or two stats at once, making them quick to read and easy to share. In light of the holiday, here’s a Halloween-related micronarrative, also called a mini-infographic, that Killer posted this week:
You’ll notice that, while we posted just one image on Twitter, we chose to break it down into a series for Instagram, a platform much better suited to posting multiple images simultaneously:
One of the reasons micronarratives have emerged is that marketers were seeking ways to optimize their visual content for each and every platform. Long-scrolling infographics don’t appear as well on some of these. But mini-infographics have proven to be a great tool for driving traffic to landing pages featuring those longer-form pieces. They’re also easy to make. They can be as simple as excerpts from a longer infographic (or motion graphic, or other type of visual content) that can stand alone and serve as teasers.
Interactive landing pages, microsites, and infographics are a great solution for brands that want to include animations, hyperlinks, tooltips, accordions, and other non-static elements in their infographics.
While landing pages like this interactive infographic for the Nuclear Threat Initiative resemble infographics in their combination of illustrations, icons, and data visualizations, they offer something more. They combined the high engagement rates of animated video with the ability to click on particular elements, such as a hyperlinked source, to take a deeper dive into the information.
Likewise, some interactive pieces will include charts and graphs with clickable components. We’ll see how that works next.
Annual Reports & Financial Reports
Many interactive pieces, such as this 2018 report from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, serve as annual or financial reports. In this example, you can hover over individual data points in several of the graphs to see the exact value of the data point the infographic is representing. Showing these exact values could look crowded or overwhelming in a static design. But with an interactive piece, individual viewers have the option to dive as deep into the data as they like. It’s up to them.
Not all infographic annual or financial reports are interactive. Sometimes they just offer a more compelling way to communicate key information. Infographics have the unique ability to aggregate a report’s most critical data into engaging data visualizations that, together, tell a larger story about trends and changes within a company.
These can take the form of PDF reports, long-scrolling pieces, or presentation decks for internal meetings. In fact, a single infographic can be repurposed to meet all of these needs and more. That’s one reason why this medium remains so useful in business reporting settings today.
Looking for more examples of infographic-inspired annual reports? Check out these posts:
- An annual report for print, designed with personalization in mind
- A report that deploys a variety of data visualization to tell a story
- A brochure-style report that highlights key findings
- An interactive annual report for Bluetooth
Motion graphics often serve a similar function as infographics. They’re a powerful tool for sharing data while minimizing on-screen text. And they’re great for telling compelling stories.
One reason some brands and design agencies opt for motion graphics over infographics is that they take advantage of the incredible popularity of video to drive high-value engagement. Video is expected to drive 82% of all online traffic by 2022. That presents a huge opportunity for marketers.
They also offer a way to more carefully guide viewers through a particular story you want to tell. While infographics let viewers skip around to the content that’s most interesting to them, a motion graphic is a more curated experience.
For instance, it’s easy to see how this motion graphic for BECU was inspired by the classic infographic format:
In fact, BECU’s content strategy involves a variety of media, including infographics.
The Value of Infographics in 2020
As we’ve seen, infographics in 2020 are just as vital a tool for marketers as they ever were. In fact, the possibilities around what we can do with infographics have only expanded.
What will your next infographic achieve?