This week’s post comes from a graphic designer who works with academics. Ben approached us when one of his colleagues suggested our readers may value tips on creating infographics to illustrate and promote their research. Ben Brockbank can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
As this post demonstrates, good infographics offer a fast, effective and eye-catching method of conveying complex information in a more accessible and engaging way.
In the context of research, ‘infographics’ can apply to any number of visual outputs, including presentations, visual reports, illustrations that accompany an article, or scientific diagrams. However, with academic and research infographics, probably the most widely used outputs are the research poster and visual abstract. I’m sure you’re familiar with research posters.
Less well-known, are visual abstracts which condense the information from an abstract into a more engaging visual display. Visual abstracts still provide key information but are more flexible and varied in terms of size and content than research posters or traditional written abstracts.
Example of a Visual Abstract
Whatever visual output you choose it should suit your research method and your purpose, and communicate as clearly as possible.
For quantitative data, you’ll most likely want to use bar graphs, pie charts, histograms or any other number of charts or graphs that visually show numerical data. Don’t worry, they don’t have to be boring, you can get creative with quantitative data, as long as the graph still accurately and clearly represents your data and aligns with the theme of your infographic.
Never overlook clear communication for the sake of a pretty picture. Good infographics should have balance, visual stability and clearly communicate a point. Icons, charts, graphs and other visualisations can be used together very effectively to create to a narrative and show off findings.
When designing an infographic, there are a number of factors to consider in order to make it accessible for your audience, such as format, size, fonts etc. These will often depend on the type of infographic you’re designing and the primary use.
For example, with a visual abstract for sharing online, you might want to think about how it will look on a mobile device or tablet. In this case you might want to create your infographic in portrait format. You also might want to change the title so it’s more memorable and easier to share on social media.
With a research poster for a conference, there may be guidelines for format, font sizes or colour: make sure you know the specifics and design with these in mind.
By now you must be thinking “How do I even start?”
There is a lot to consider; however, you’ve already done most of the hard work by having done the research. If you follow a few guidelines, you’ll be on your way to creating an engaging and memorable research infographic.
- Design with your target audience in mind. Think about their existing knowledge and how you can appeal to that and extend it.
- Try and keep your poster word count between 200 and 300 words. Short sentences and engaging visuals keep them interested.
- Focus on the big idea and be selective about what key findings you use. Remember that your infographic is a way of inviting people to find out more about your research. Your research infographic will typically include: a title and short description, background, research questions, methods, results and findings, conclusions and references (usually at the bottom).
- Organise your content with columns, sections and headings. This will help you create a well-balanced infographic that is clear and easy to navigate for your audience. Use the layout as an opportunity to tell a narrative or guide your audience through the infographic.
- Use plenty of space and don’t cram things in. Infographics should be carefully curated, and give readers the opportunity to understand the overall message of the research in a quick and visually pleasing way.
- Keep a consistent style. This means having a well-balanced and limited colour scheme and using no more than two fonts in three sizes – one for your headings and title, and one for the body copy. Google fonts have over 800 fonts that you can download and use.
- Use high resolution images.
- Limit colours. Light and bright colours can be used to highlight main points. I usually use no more than 5, although with some data visualisations you might need to use more: one main colour and a lighter version of the same colour, with no more than three accent colours. A good tip is to use varying shades of your accent colours.
- Depending on your budget and skill level, there are many software programs to choose from. If you have a higher budget and want to give it a try, the possibilities of a program like Adobe Creative Cloud (illustrator / photoshop) are endless.
- However, free online tools like Canva or Piktochart are easy to use and affordable (or free) for getting started. PowerPoint is an option too, and although definitely not recommend as a graphics / chart creation tool, it can be used for putting together your infographic.
Clearly, infographics offer a lot to researchers wanting an interesting and engaging way to showcase their findings, and of course, research is of no use unless it gets to the people who need it! Designing a research infographic can be rewarding and highly beneficial, and hopefully you’ll find these tips helpful when you start creating yours.
Images by Ben Brockbank