Recently I created nine different quick thumbnail layout sketches for an infographic tutorial I’m working on for my upcoming ebook Create Awesome Infographics. Being able to quickly generate layout sketches is a great skill to have when working on infographics. It will save you time by giving you something to show other people that did not take long to do. You can also involve others in the process by sketching on post-it notes, napkins, or a white board. Anyone can learn how to do this. If you can write your name you can create quick layout sketches.
Tools Built for Speed
I use simple tools like pencils, markers or pens on copy paper or I draw on a white board with dry erase markers. I don’t use a computer or tablet since I might get distracted or start focusing too much on alignment or how things will work when at this stage I need to focus on the “What.” I find that low fidelity tools help keep the focus on the goals of the project. The less polished the sketch looks, the easier it is to make changes in direction, think things through and invite others to get involved and buy in to solutions early on.
Simple and Quick Beats Pretty and Slow
The shapes used in a quick layout don’t have to be well drawn. You can even use rulers and shape guides to make them. There are no rules here and since we are trying to quickly get our ideas down, the sketches can be rough. At first your sketches may seem really messy. Take a deep breath and try to simplify more. Use a big box for the rough “paper” container then fill that in with a title and footer area and big sections for the content.
How Long? Not Long Enough.
Set aside ten minutes to do the first round of sketches. Yes, I said ten minutes. It seems like a short amount of time, but that is the whole point. Knowing we only have about one minute to devote to 9 sketches or 5 minutes each for two sketches helps keep the focus on the act of sketching and drives us to make choices.
You can see an example of my exploration of possible options in the image below. I explored the seven different layouts and variations I thought might work based on the research about the topic I had collected and the goals I had defined earlier on. The boxes are not even, the lines are not even straight.
Audit Your Layout Choices
Now there are a set of nine thumbnails to choose from. Keeping the goals and story in mind, which one will work best? It is very likely several would work just fine, so think about the future when you publish the infographic. Will it need to be long and narrow? Used as a poster? Printed as a t-shirt? Remember, it is much easier at this point to show a layout to a stakeholder and get sign off than wait until you have spent a lot of time on a polished mockup and find out they really wanted something else.
Will the Data Work with the Layout?
Now consider if the data is visualized in the best possible way. You may notice an opportunity to add variety to the infographic such as using symbols to represent “two out of three.” Some groups of data work better in bar charts and others as pie charts. A larger data item in a group of data might look best as a pie chart or illustration/icon because of the contrast between it and the other data points.
Consider grouping data into sections that best tell the story. If the percentages over different date ranges are very similar, what happens when you put everyone under or over 40 in one group? As an example, one of the sets of data I collected for our infographic was about driver ages in different states. I discovered California has the most young and old drivers (as of 2013 statistics). There are a lot of exciting ways to visualize this information. We could use pictochart icons of young and older people, we could use pie charts, bar charts, and more. We could also compare the number of people over 19 versus 19 and younger and see how that compared with the other states.
I’ve enjoyed sharing a few of my secrets to creating quick layout sketches. If you’ve found this information useful, consider signing up for my Create Awesome Infographics ebook mailing list. I’ll be sharing bonus information and tools along with how to score one of five free copies of the book when it launches.