Design and content are often treated as separate entities. And all too often, design is placed in service of content. Dress it up. Make it look pretty. Prep it for an audience. Design is often valued for its visual appeal rather than its contributions to storytelling.
However, truly gifted communication designers know that design is more than mere adornment. Good design affects a story’s expressive content, or message. Likewise, information graphics often include many small elements, from headlines and chatter, to large and small illustrations. Putting it all together designing the infographic-is just as important as solid research, good writing, and beautiful illustrations. Design is content.
Designers and graphics reporters are storytellers. And visual storytelling is a powerful method of communication driven by a balance between information architecture and good aesthetics. This chapter explores key considerations for composing an information graphic, namely several basic design principles that can be applied to your work to ensure your graphic is well organized, cohesive and easy to digest. We will also explore the seemingly minor, but very important details, such as alignment, spacing and structure.
Visual Metaphors: One of the most effective methods for helping your audience understand complex concepts is to use clear and simple visual metaphors. From basic charts and maps, to elaborate data visualizations, visual metaphors help present complex information in ways that are easer for the brain to perceive and process. As a result, choosing the right visual metaphor for an information graphic is crucial. For example, lines are often used to represent time.
Design Principles: Research suggest that the ease with information can be processed affects a person’s judgment about the information. This makes striking the right balance between “informative” and “visually interesting” very important. Following basic design principles ensure your design choices effectively serve the content and the viewer experience. Each principle has a discrete definition but all are interrelated, and understanding how they work together is critical. Design principles include: balance, proportion, contrast, harmony, rhythm, focus and unity.
Design Details: Beyond consistently applying the seven basic design principles to your work, attention to detail is one of the most valuable traits you can develop as a graphic designer. Novice designers sometimes rush to finish a project, while experience designers often toil over the “small stuff” like alignment, spacing and type choices. Believe it or not, this can be the difference between a “good” graphic and one that is truly excellent. Skills to consider include: negative space, margins, consistent alignment and spacing, and legibility and readability.