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Top 5 Traits of a Great Infographic

Infographics have become an extremely powerful way for government agencies to quickly and efficiently synthesize complex data for citizens. In terms of data, you typically have people in two camps – the folks who want to see the raw data file and manipulate data accordingly and then the people who want to find information quickly and easily. I always love hearing stories about technologically adept citizens who turn the raw data into really cool apps/visualizations to help citizens who want the quick and dirty on government data.

Regardless of how you like to view data, infographics are a great way for the public sector to quickly present information to key stakeholders. Here are my top 5 traits of a great inforgraphic:

1) Easy to Consume

This is really a challenge with data, especially with complex government data. The data presented is so complex and often interrelated, so agencies really need to scope out what they are trying to present visually. The goal is to present something that a citizen can quickly consume on a topic that they are interested in.

2) Visually Appealing

This is an obvious one, but no one wants to look at an infographic that looks boring. The hope is that through the infographic, you will get people to consider an issue in a new light, so the aesthetics are just as important as the content. There always seems to be a tension between content and design, but with infographics, you need to bring your A game for both content and design.

3) Timely

An infographic should be something that is currently happening and issues people care about. While deciding on what kind of infographic to make, agencies need to pick an issue that people truly care about and is a current concern for citizens.

4) Influence and Educate

I always like seeing infographics that challenge my views or provide me with a new perspective on an issue. I always like when they get me thinking about an issue, and provide enough context to stand alone

5) Reputable Data

I always am interested to vet data and see the source, it’s way to easy to push an agenda with data. You never know where the data came from, so it’s best to just do a quick check.

I came across two great infographics online yesterday from the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, they did a great job putting together the infographics, so I wanted to share them here on GovLoop. I think they certainly fit into all the categories I listed above.


The first infographic is called: Tax Day Infographic: Our Shared Investments, “The resources collected through our revenue system allow Washington to make significant public investments that benefit all of us. Check out our graph below for information on these investments in our state.”

The second infographic is called, Our Broken Revenue System: “To continue to make the investments in public health, education, communities and public safety that all Washington residents care about, we need a revenue system that works. See the graphic below to learn more about our broken revenue system.”

I thought the Washington State Budget and Policy Center did a great job with these two infographics. Present tax data visually is not an easy task. I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you think makes a great infographic. Infographics and visual representation is definitely a trend within government, and one that more and more agencies are picking up on. It’s a fun trend to watch, and would love any examples of infographics you have worked on or created within your agency.

What do you think? What do you think makes a great infographic?

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Profile Photo Corey McCarren

I like the second one. I’d also say the way the information flows is important. The best infographics tell a story, after reading one part it should make you want to read the next bit of information.

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Profile Photo Sterling Whitehead

Too bad there’s not software like RememberTheMilk that can easily take specific tasks and convert them into infographics for bosses. It’d be nice for status reports.

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Profile Photo Andy Lowenthal

I’d like to see more strategic use of infographics and other data visualizations in all levels of government. One of the challenges, I think, is the dearth of professionally-trained graphic designers on staff. In order to be truly effective, an infographic needs to hit your #1 and #2, or the rest of your criteria don’t matter. In other words, it could be timely and data-rich, but if it looks like crap it’s likely not going to go viral or otherwise enjoy the same reach it might have.

I could see someone saying that the hiring, or even contracting, of creative talent for the purpose of infographic design is an unnecessary extravagance that has no place on the public sector payroll. But this view would be as short-sighted as it is dated. This is how information is consumed in 2012. Think about the color-code system that existed from 2002-2011 (Homeland Security Advisory System). This was essentially an infographic that explained our national security threat level to millions of Americans. But that information was not overly complex as compared to, say, an annual report summarizing U.S. envrionmental health or jobs creation by state.

While I think it’s great for private citizens to analyze data and create their own outputs (one of the ideas behind data.gov), government is missing an opportunity to communicate directly with its stakeholders about its own performance.

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Profile Photo Claudia Hosky

Compelling art is a good point – I don’t generally feel very tempted to read a boring looking document. An animated infographic can also be a good way to hook your audience.

That being said – public sector must also be conscious of the accessibility implications of having information available in these types of forms for Section 508 compliance… If you can find a way to make your infographic also communicate effectively (or better, compellingly) with other modes of communication (i.e. sound, etc.), then you could be awesomely successful.

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