There are lots layouts out there. So many that just trying to create an infographic of key ways to show information leads to infographics like this one by Jonathan Schwabish and Severino Ribecca. It can get very overwhelming pretty quickly. I’ve identified seven layouts that I have see work well based on my own experiences.
This is part four in a series about creating infographics. I’ll be sharing examples of seven strong layouts and how not to make the same mistakes I have. You can read parts one, two, and three of this series to learn more about how defining data and story are crucial to making the best layout choices. Learn from my muddied past and become wiser!
S is the valedictorian of layouts. It leads the viewer through the infographic with visual attention ques while the story follows a logical progression from beginning to middle then end. While the typical use of this is top to bottom, left to right, like a western “S”, it could just as easily be flipped horizontally or vertically. These are great for journey stories or where there will be interesting star stats or graphics paired with paragraph copy. They are most successfully when there is plenty of room for each guidepost on the journey. The S layout is stellar for linear storytelling with a set of 5 or more key points.
Mobile friendly with an infinite vertical canvas, stacked layouts layer and build as the reader reads or scrolls from the top down. Designers often carry this further visually by having each stack move a person to a different environment such as floors of an office building. The best examples of this layout that I’ve seen have benefited from careful planning an iteration. While popular on tutorials about making quick infographics, this layout loses its impact when graphics and data are just piled on top of decorative backgrounds.
LRD (Left to Right then Down)
This is a natural reading layout. This differs from the S shape by being more structured into defined areas using color, lines, and arrows. The S is a more organic layout.
An example of this is the insider threat infographic I created for Lancope. There are several different things I did to create a strong layout. First, like in many infographics, the header text is large and set up so it extends across the top of both columns used in the layout. I also have a graphic next to the title that contains smaller visual elements used throughout the piece. Next is an introductory block that is arranged in close proximity to the title since it sets up the story for the infographic. Then there is a key quote and statistic that is set apart from the rest of the piece but also tied to it visually with thin lines. This took several iterations to find a good solution. The quote itself was too long to be too large, but I did not want it to wrap to the next line, dotted lines would not work well here as. I was already using them throughout the piece. The double lines top and bottom added a little graphical flare while allowing me to keep the stat the size I wanted. The sections below are all the same width and have the same paragraph alignment and font sizes. The sameness of each block frees the reader from being visually distracted from the story. The dotted lines add additional structure and visual guidance but still imply a link between the blocks. The content of each block would also work as a presentation slide. Their order in the infographic was refined until the story flow was clear. Stats that did not support the story of the infographic were even still used in the companion ebook, which had more context and more room for a more complex look at the issues.
One Big Happy Slide (OBHS)
Infographics that contain everything on what looks like one presentation slide are popular for sales pitches and as quick reference guides. Hubspot uses this method to produce what I like to think of as “infographic flip books. They use a lot of white space and follow presentation best practices. They also offer templates to marketers who want to create simple ebooks or infographic content. Use these when you have a very tight story to tell on one big slide or want to connect a series of statements, stats and graphics in a storybook format. UGC uses a “day in the life” theme with key call outs radiating out of the center like spokes.
Circletastic (starts at top, goes around like a clock)
This is a great layout to use for life cycles, processes,or time dependant data. The best have a clean beginning, end, and direction for flow. While working on the Continuous Response infographic for Lancope, I used a mostly monochromatic color scheme to keep the focus on the graphics and story. The color palette and text boxes as well as the style was designed to play nicely with a previous graphical piece produced by a vendor. Keeping a consistent overall look was critical to the usefulness of the piece as part of a sales kit. There were progressive rings used to illustrate the journey from outside the network to inside the network and company. The colors also changed with movement around the circle and from the external area to the internal. A great deal of planning went into this project. A big challenge we faced at the end of the project was the need to add an additional side panel to add more context to the piece. After a bunch more iterating, we used colors and copy that worked with the main design and kept the side panel simple to keep the focus on the infographic.
Sites like informationisbeautiful.net have popularized the visual power of using a single graph or collection of data to illustrate an issue. The best of these are also interactive. The ability to drill down deeper into the data or even sort and filter the display of information is a compelling way to tell a story. Challenges with this type of layout include avoiding mystery meat navigation, give users clues on where to dive in, and graceful fall back if someone has a slow internet connection, a device you had not planned for, or has client-side interactions blocked. The biggest challenge I have found in creating these is getting distracted from the true goal of the layout by shiny animation possibilities.
Do you want to display your stats and graphics on a grid like Pinterest? You and everyone else. This can be a strong way to showcase a series of stats without a lot of text or when the goal is to tell a non-linear story. One of my favorites is Creative Routines, which takes 16 circletastic charts showing the daily schedules of famous creatives across different disciplines and centuries then compares those at a high level using a grid layout. While at a glance it is easy to draw a few quick comparisons, the layout invites deeper inspection. Bold colors are used to categorize different types of activities so you can answer questions like “Did Victor Hugo or Maya Angelou work more?” Which then leads to questions like “Well what was really work for them?” It is very exciting how this amazing infographic causes even more questions to perculate than it answers.
I hope you’ve found this information on layouts useful for your next project. What is your favorite layout?