Infographics are excellent ways to communicate. They deliver a lot of content in an easy-to-read format. They’re easily shareable. And, yes, they do look pretty. But they’re much more than a pretty package. When used corretly, they are a powerful storytelling device. By combining great visuals, great data, and great copy, they stimulate powerful learning centers in the brain, helping connect ideas much quicker than images or text alone. So, how do you put them to work for you? Whether you’re a newb who’s never worked on one before or an OG who’s done it a million times, remember that all good infographics start with good infographic ideas.
As cofounder of Column Five, I’ve sat through a couple thousand infographic brainstorms, and I know firsthand that coming up with a killer idea doesn’t always happen at will. So, to make things easier—and share some hard-earned knowledge—I’ve compiled a list of some of the more tried-and-true ways to come up with great infographic ideas, as well as a few examples to inspire you. I hope it helps your next brainstorm.
16 Tips for Infographic Ideas
1. Industry Trends: You’re consuming information relevant to your industry all day: newsletters, articles blogs, think pieces, reports, etc. These can all be great fodder for an infographic. Next time you run through your bookmarked blogs, think about how each might be translated into a piece of visual content. If a particular item you come across stays with you—or irks you—there is probably a great infographic idea somewhere in there. Here’s an example of a marketing trends piece Microsoft, tailormade for the marketing industry.
2. Pop Culture Trends: Music, entertainment, sports, fashion—these are great sources for infographic ideas. These popular subjects are always trending and, when gamed right, can help elevate the visibility of your infographic. We’ve visualized everything from rap artists’ lifestyles to breakdowns of blockbuster movies. The options are pretty endless.
3. Social Trends: Cultural trends can be a powerful source to tap into for infographic inspiration. Organizations like Pew Research are constantly releasing reports on a variety of issues relevant to the larger culture, from demographic data to social opinion polls. Serious or light-hearted, broad or niche, think of how these trends may be turned into interesting infographics. For example, in the past we’ve tackled the selfie-obsessed generation and the brunch phenomenon.
4. News Items: There’s no shame in newsjacking. It’s a great way to insert yourself into the conversation (in an appropriate way, of course). For example, when California’s drought was in the news (and our SoCal HQ office was withering), we created our “7 Ways to Hack a Drought” infographic to spread the word on water conservation. Monitor headlines and take a look at Google trends to keep your finger on the pulse. One caveat: Avoid tragedies or hot-button political issues. We’ve seen too many brands mess up royally. Don’t let your controversial infographic ideas take you down.
5. Upcoming Events: Ideally, you’re working ahead and carefully planning your editorial calendar. Make sure to regularly review upcoming events—everything from major holidays to movie releases—to spot any opportunities to plug in content. Tip: Forekast is “the Internet’s calendar,” and it tracks just about everything, inspiring our interactive infographic in honor of Black History Month and a camping guide to Coachella.
6. In-House Data: One of the best ways to differentiate yourself from your competition is to market your unique value propositions, to tell your unique story. What better way to do that (with the added bonus of credible data) than to use the data you have access to in your company? Annual reports, case studies, sales data—all of these elements can help you tell an interesting story to your audience.
7. Surveys: Whether you coordinate with your marketing team to poll your own customers or wait for a major industry publication to release the results of their most recent survey, this data is ripe for visualization. Pair it with a structured narrative and you have infographic gold. We especially enjoyed working on Northwestern University Qatar’s survey about media use in the Middle East. It was a ton of data made easy to understand through visualization.
8. Existing Content: If your brand has been actively content marketing, then you likely have an archive of previously produced content. Everything from blog posts, to press releases, to case studies can be repackaged to tell a new story. This is the easiest and leanest way to get more mileage out of your existing content. Here, we turned a post on how to optimize your blog into a visual guide.
9. Company Culture: Content marketing is vital to a company, but culture marketing is also integral to your brand. If there are causes, hobbies, or other things that are of particular interest to you and your coworkers, let them feed your infographic ideas. For example, after a recent discussion on women’s health, our team created the #PeopleForPeriods interactive, which aims to help destigmatize the discussion of menstruation. (We also once tracked our Beer Friday consumption—but not everyone needs to know that.)
10. Academic Studies: You’re a marketer, not a researcher. But there’s no substitute for amazing scientific data—especially when it helps support the message you’re trying to convey. Google Scholar can help you search a ton of studies in a variety of fields, from social psychology to tech. You can use this to inspire your next idea—or to help enhance one you already have. We once visualized the results of a scientific study on the controversial subject of penis size, and it became our most popular post of the week.
11. Government Reports: There is a wealth of public data available from every branch of the government, all of which can be put to good infographic use. Most of it is easily accessible, and each organization has an active newsroom that puts out press releases for notable findings—a great source of infographic ideas. Check out sites for the CDC, The Environmental Protection Agency, Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, etc. You can bookmark particular findings or pull a stat to chew on later. For example, we used public health data to create this infographic on pandemics throughout time.
12. Target Keywords: You are making an infographic for a reason: You want it to be seen. You know evergreen pieces will give you the most value for the work you put into it, so why not use SEO to your advantage? Depending on your goals, you’ll want to search relevant keywords to see what terms you might rank for. Consider what type of content might be relevant to those search terms. We created this infographic on designing effective visual communication to help our SEO as a design agency.
13. Tutorials: You can tell someone how to do something—or you can show them. Infographics are inherently information design. However, that doesn’t mean that slapping pictures and words together means you made a great infographic. Look for examples of processes or situations where an illustrated tutorial will help your audience. For example, here’s our tutorial for 4 ways to fold a shirt.
14. Something Someone Else Did. How many times have you come across a killer piece of content and wish you’d thought of it? It can be frustrating, but odds are if you thought of it, you can also think of ways to make it better. Good content is about providing great value. If you can do something better, do it. Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of visualizations for particular cocktails, but when the Kentucky Derby came around, we decided to visualize how to make multiple versions of the classic Mint Julep. It was a specific spin on a visualization style plenty of other people have done.
15. Company Materials: Time, energy, and attention are precious commodities. Communication in the digital age should be focused on making the biggest impact in the least amount of time. Take a look at your existing company materials: sales brochures, press releases, employee handbooks. It’s likely there is material in there that can—and should—be visualized to create a more efficient and enjoyable experience. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your creativity to turn these boring pieces into visual gold. A great example of this is marketer Amos Haffner‘s resumé, which he turned into an infographic.
16. Your Personal Passions: If there’s something that you particularly love—or are just curious about—you can sometimes find a unique angle that might be worthy of infographic exploration. I’m a big soccer fan, and after reading news articles about race-related incidents in England’s Premier League, I researched the league’s diversity and partnered with one of our designers to visualize it. Your topic might be niche, but there’s a certain sense of accomplishment attached to doing something that you have a personal connection to.
Hopefully these tips will give you great fodder for all your future infographic ideas. If you want more inspiration, take a look at my roundup of the top 100 best infographics of the decade for visual inspiration.