As a member of Beutler Ink's sales team, I get this question a lot: Why do infographics take 4-6 weeks to make? And this one too: Why do infographics cost more than other types of design work? To answer those questions, I like to start by answering this one: How many people does it take to make an infographic?
Like the cartoon owl in the beloved Tootsie Pop commercial, we may never have a definitive answer. Teams will vary, as will project requirements. But I'm willing to bet it takes more people than you think.
The best infographics require at least three areas of expertise: strategy, data visualization, and design (plus other specialities I'll detail below). It's possible you could find one very talented person who has mastered all three: a narwhal with the gift of clever copywriting, data literacy, and a sharp design eye. But more often than not, you're going to need multiple team members to pull off a quality infographic.
Here is a look at how we at Beutler Ink staff our infographic projects.
Strategists are responsible for several pieces of the infographic puzzle: compiling research, analyzing it, and writing copy to explain it.
For some infographics, the data points come easily. We might be asked to visualize a very specific dataset, such as proprietary data from a client partner or survey results—as seen in this infographic we made with Oracle Marketing Cloud (then called Oracle Eloqua) and LookBookHQ.
In other cases, we are tasked with telling a certain story and finding data on our own to back it up, as we did in Kinvey's Apps & Oranges. For assignments like this, we need a thorough researcher who can uncover data points from a variety of sources around the web and put together a cohesive narrative.
Finally, for infographics that are especially number-heavy, like the US of Energy map we created with Saxum, we need specialized strategists who live to crunch numbers and manipulate Excel spreadsheets.
Once we have data collected and analyzed, our strategists outline the narrative. What is the most important part of the story? Where do we start and what's our call to action? How do we get our audience from Point A to Point B?
With the outline in place, our last step is copywriting. This type of copywriting is highly specialized and requires writing succinctly without sacrificing clarity and being catchy without changing the meaning of the data.
Data Visualization Expert (1)
Our data viz experts are hybrids between strategy and design, bridging the gap from words to images. They create what we call wireframes, grayscale sketches focused on the structure of the data. Like a blueprint for an architect creating a building, wireframes ensure our final design will include all of the intended data and in the right hierarchy. Not every infographic shop includes this step, but we think it's critical to ensuring data accuracy and narrative integrity.
And because there's more than one way to visualize any dataset, we typically create 2-3 wireframes per infographic, exploring different ways to bring the story to live, giving us and our client partners options.
Design is the final step in the visualization process, and most client partners agree: it's the most fun. This is where the graphic really starts to come alive.
To keep our portfolio full of variety and to give our client partners options, we like to design every infographic in a few different styles. We do this by asking two or three designers to illustrate just a small portion of the approved wireframe. We aim to create three tiers: a safe, a wild, and a medium option. The safe option sticks closely to our client partner's brand guidelines, while the wild one takes many liberties. We then share all the options with our client for feedback.
More often than not, the winning design isn't just the safe option. It's a blend of several options: fonts from this one, colors from that, and characters from a third. We mix these elements together to create a truly unique style that suits our client perfectly.
Account Manager (1)
With so many team members involved in each infographic, it's not surprising we need a manager to keep everyone organized and on time. Our account manager serves as the main point of contact for our client partners and leads the team internally.
The proverbial buck stops with the account manager, so this team member also does a lot of brainstorming, copy-editing, and fact-checking.
That means, on any given day, you might find this person leading a meeting, developing a timeline, explaining what a wireframe is, giving feedback on a narrative, and planning an outreach strategy.
Specialists (as needed, 1-many)
All of the personnel above are needed for static infographics. In the event we want to animate the graphic or make it interactive, like our own Labs visualization, Recurring Developments, we'll need even more experts at the table: animators, developers, technical project managers, etc. And, some client partners request our assistance with media outreach, which means a PR professional joins the mix.
When you see all of the players who work together to make an infographic, it's much easier to understand why we say infographics with first-time client partners take 4-6 weeks from start to finish and why infographics cost more than traditional graphic design.
At Beutler Ink, we pride ourselves in producing quality infographics, and those don't happen overnight or by accident. They take time and intention. But when we join forces with like-minded partners, the results are worth it.