The 8-and-a-half Habits of Effective Infographic Designers

The following post adapts Stephen Covey’s books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit, to the world of infographics.  Covey freely admits at the back of The 7 Habits that although the habits are simple in principle, they are difficult to implement, and he still wrestles with them on a daily basis.

The same could be said for the habits here.  They will take some effort.  But embody them, and you win.


1. Take Responsibility

Covey’s Habit:  Be Proactive

If nobody likes your infographic, it’s your fault, not theirs – deal with it.  No matter how much you like your idea, if people don’t get it, you failed – not them.  Figure out what happened.  Learn from it.  Move on.


2. Have a Clear Target

Covey’s Habit:  Begin with the End in Mind

Who is this for?  What do they like to consume?  In what format do they like to consume information (i.e. should this even be a visualisation)?  What design preferences do they have?


3. Give Me The F**ing Story!

Covey’s Habit:  First Thing First

Don’t make we work for it.  Don’t make me figure it out.  Put it right up there.  Smack me in the face with it.  I like that.

Even if it’s interactive, the first rule of interactive graphics is ‘overview first’, which isn’t a generic introduction, it means, TELL ME THE STORY!   Got it?  Nice one.


4. Remember It’s A 2-way Transaction

Covey’s Habit:  Think Win-Win

Avoid the linkbait trap.  The problem with linkbait is it focuses on the wrong things – the links (i.e. what you get out of it).  You’ll win when you serve the needs and wants of your intended audience, and no other way.  Don’t just focus on what you can get, but also, what you can give.

This doesn’t just apply to those mining for links – we all want something for our efforts – praise, recognition, tweets, followers, likes, visits, subscriptions, sales.  Whatever it is, the principle still applies.


5. Know Your Audience

Covey’s Habit:  Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

This largely relates to my previous post about information vs informing.  Don’t think about what you have to say, but what your audience wants to hear.  Or what they NEED to hear – I’m all for some tough love, but you must address their interests either way.


6. Build A Team

Covey’s Habit:  Synergise

Synergise.  What a bullshit word.  Good principle though.  Consider working with people – play to your strengths and let them play to theirs.  Being good at every step of the process is unlikely for most mere mortals.

There’s a lot to do – concept, research, data cleansing, data processing, visualisation, copy, design, development, usability.  Some people (the sickeningly talented ones) have it all, but they’re a rare breed.  You don’t have to.


7. Stretch Yourself…….

Covey’s Habit:  Sharpen the Saw  (part 1)

Set yourself a challenge on each new project to do something different:

  • Do you rely too much on a certain style?  Ban yourself from using it.
  • Are you addicted to pie charts?  Wean yourself off them.
  • Create something meaningful and complete in 500 x 500 pixels.
  • No colour – get it right in black & white.

And get away from infographics and visualisation entirely.  Try creating a different piece of content – a blog post, a news release, a white paper or a guide.  Or a different piece of visual content that might do well on Tumblr or Pinterest.  Use Microsoft Paint.  Anything.


7 1/2 ……and Relax

Covey’s Habit:  Sharpen the Saw  (part 2)

Chill the f*** out.  Get a life.  The rules of the original habit (sharpening the saw) apply to you too – get the appropriate amount of stimulation and relaxation in the different contexts of your life.  It will improve your work immensely.

Enjoy yourself.  You might be taking this all too seriously.


8.  Find Your Voice

Covey’s Habit:  Find Your Voice

The wording of Covey’s original habit works perfectly here.  Find. Your. Voice.

What do you want to say?    And how do you want to say it?  What do you care about?

On a larger scale, what difference do you want to make?  What effect do you want to have?  That’s the key question really. Effective people have an effect.  What do you want that to be?

Tough question.  Worth answering.

Note:  Sarah Slobin wrote a great article a while back called 7-and-a-half Steps to Successful Infographics.  I didn’t set out to make this post have something-and-a-half points.  It just worked out that way.  That said, if you haven’t read Sarah’s article, you should.  It’s much better than this one.

Information Is Not A Thing

The internet is filled with Information, but information is not a thing.  It’s a noun, yes, but not an object.  It’s a verb turned into a noun – an action into a thing.

You’re not publishing information – you are informing someone of something.  But WHO are you informing?  About WHAT?  And WHY do they care?



The danger when you turn an action into a thing is you tend to focus on the thing.  But just as important as what you’re delivering is where you’re doing it and who will be there.  The same can be said of a presentation.  While you’re preparing to give a talk, it’s tempting, and quite normal, to focus on the presentation, but not on the people you’re presenting to.

You can easily spend too much time consumed by the words and the slides

And not enough time learning about the audience – who they are, what they know, and what they want.  Neglect this step at your peril.  Trust me, I’ve been there – more recently than I care to mention – AND IT HURT!

If social media is meant to be a conversation, imagine having that conversation – scratch that, imagine conversing – in real life!

Imagine yourself in a cosy bar chatting with one or two members of your audience:

  • Who are they?
  • What would they look like?
  • What would they be wearing?
  • What would the bar be like?
  • Still feel like you have something valuable to say?
  • Or are you just masquerading?
  • Would they listen?
  • Would they want to hear more?

In fact, forget imagining…

Go and have some real conversations – it’s good for you.

It’s not that scary, and it’s the best thing you’ll do to improve your content.

Want to know if that idea for your next blog post or infographic is as good as you think?  Tell people about it next time you’re in the pub.  And watch their reaction.  Don’t listen, watch!  You’ll know in a second if it needs more work.

Stop focusing on the information and think about who you’re informing

  • What do they want to know?
  • What do they need to know?
  • How could they benefit from thinking about things in a different way?
  • How can you help?

In short, don’t think about what you have to say, but what you have to deliver!

Hat Tip:  I was inspired to write this after reading this post by Ian Lurie

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and followers.

Content That Matters

“We at least want to be in the business where content matters”Edward Tufte.

Think of all the infographics out there –  how many of them really matter?  How many of them say something important?  Important enough to save someone’s life?

Add This Image To Your Site:

data cake
Breast Cancer Symptoms

Coppafeel, a breast cancer awareness charity, are definitely in the business where content matters. The organisation was started by Kris Hallenga.

At the age of 23, Kris discovered a lump in her breast, but was turned away from her GP on more than one occasion, because she was considered too young to have breast cancer.  After a frustrating 8 months, she was finally diagnosed, by which time she had developed stage 4 breast cancer (the most advanced type).  And it was now not only in her breast, but had also spread to her spine.

5 months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed.  Kris is very open and frank about this time in her life:

“It was shit!”

But they’ve developed a motto at Coppafeel – ‘You can’t polish a turd.  But you can roll it in glitter.’  Which roughly translates as making the best of a bad situation.  Kris has made it her mission (and the mission of Coppafeel) to raise awareness that breast cancer can affect you at a young age, and you could save your own life by getting to know your boobs.

Kris continues her own battle with cancer, but focuses most of her energy on helping other people avoid the same fate.

And You Can Help…

Please support Coppafeel by spreading the word.  Embed one of these infographics on your site.  Tweet about Coppafeel.  Link to their site. And/Or embed a badge on your site (like the one on the right hand column of this blog).

breast cancer symptoms

Add This Image To Your Site:

data cake
Signs of Breast Cancer

However, you do it, please help spread the word – young people need to learn about the early signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

Thank you.


Dataviz Meetup London

Dear Fellow Dataviz Enthusiasts,

A number of us have been meeting up in London for the past few months.  But next week promises to be our largest meet-up yet.

Andy Kirk from VisualisingData will be attending, alongside some of the regulars.  Quite a few of you have expressed interest in attending the meetup previously via Twitter.  And if you were going to make one, this would be it.  It’s likely to be the last meetup of 2011.  So would be great to see as many of you there as possible.

There’s also the possibility, with the Visualization marathon in town the next day, a few attendees, organisers or speakers might swing by as well.

There are no presentations at the meetup or anything like that – it’s all pretty informal.  Just good conversation over a few beers.  And occasionally some spirited discussions about bar graphs  – seriously, don’t get Dave started!

The meetup will be held on Friday 11th November from 18:30 at Cantaloupe Bar, Shoreditch

Cantaloupe,35-42 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PD

Nearest underground stations:  Old Street or Liverpool Street

View Larger Map

If you’re interested in coming along, please email me at the following address:  mark [at] epicgraphic [dot] com

We have at times had to rearrange the venue on the day.  And it’s much easier for organisation having emails rather than relying on Twitter.  We can drop you a line about future meetups too (even if you can’t make this one).  I won’t use your email for any other purpose, I promise.  I’ll also send you my phone number in case you have any trouble finding us on the night.

I hope to see you on the 11th.



The Sunday Times Does Data Visualisation

A week ago, the following abomination appeared in the Sunday Times.

I’m not referring to the score line, but the infographic.  Honestly, what does this graphic tell me?  And how is my understanding enhanced by the visual elements?

  • Scotland apparently played with greater intensity – the measure here being Dallaglio’s opinion – no actual data or measurement, but a couple of bubbles to make the point all the same
  • Scotland won battles all over the field  – a few thistles of varying sizes placed at random across the pitch, presumably to explain what ‘all over the field’ means
  • The subs ignited England – picture of substitute jerseys with a small flame above each
  • Ashton shut the door on Scotland – diagram of a door in case you don’t know what one is
  • It was an ugly win – complete with checklist of other descriptions that might have been applicable


The graphic doesn’t aid me in any way.  I would much rather they’d used photographs showing the intensity and the battles.  As it stands, it’s actually harder to read than plain text.

A week later, I decided to explore how infographics and data visualisation are being used by the UK papers in general, starting with the Sunday broadsheets.  I purchased the 4 broadsheets stocked by my local newsagent:  The Times, The Observer, The Telegraph & The Independent (they each contained more than I bargained for, so I’ll split them across a series of posts).

First up, it’s the Sunday Times…


Explaining La Nina (sort of)

Other than show me where Australia, the UK and the US are, this hasn’t done much to aid my understanding of La Nina.  A diagram could have been really useful here, but this one’s sadly lacking.  Next.

Avoiding the Flu

The following diagram accompanies an article in which a virologist tells us how to avoid the flu:

Believe it or not, I quite like this.  It does help me picture what is meant exactly by touching elbows and the sanitary sneeze.  It’s a little fun, but I think it’s a reasonable addition to the article.

Anyone for Donuts?

Donuts appear to be a firm favourite at The Times.

I know some people don’t like showing parts of a whole in a bar graph, but it would make the comparisons across all 4 questions much easier.  A stacked bar might have worked nicely here too.  The same could apply below.

The problem could be that circles are just more pleasing to the eye than bars, especially among blocks of text.  So I guess it depends on the purpose of the graphic – is it to make visual comparisons between the 3 options, or are they aiming for a bit of eye candy to lighten up the page?  I suspect the latter.

The Simple Bar Graph

The example below shows how much easier it is to make comparisons using bars rather than donuts.

I like the minimal approach here.  They could even have done away with the dotted line between bars too, but all ‘n’ all, much easier to read than previous entries.

This bar graph (above) is actually one of my favourite entries.  Really easy to read – everything runs horizontally (the chart and the text), and there’s very little chart junk.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

Russian Revenge

Oh dear.  Just when things were looking up.  This is like a bad comic strip.  Content aside, this does nothing to tell the story.  The scenes seem pretty disconnected, and don’t even provide useful snapshots.  Next.

The Weather

Ah the weather map.  Not always good news in Britain, but a classic in the field of visualisation – well worthy of a place alongside the periodic table and the tube map.  They could be a bit more generous on the distribution of UK temperatures to make this example more useful, but a pleasing return to something simple and effective.


Best and Worst Performers

Economics and Finance aren’t my strongest topics, so I may not be well placed to criticise here.  Perhaps The Times Money section knows its audience well, and need not explain this graph any further.  But to me, the category Auto and Parts (presumably as an industry) have risen by 49.4% in some measure.  It’s probably explained in the article, but it would be worth making the chart as self-contained as possible with a good title and/or caption.  Oh, I almost forgot – get rid of the giant arrows – what are they proving?  We know what negative and positive growth rates mean.

The Best Accounts

I think the bubbles in the above chart are the same size (I’m not certain).  If so, this isn’t visualising anything as such, and is simply a decorated table.  But you know what?  Maybe that’s okay.  Yeah, I know – chart junk, chart junk…  But it draws attention, and the design doesn’t do anything too distracting.  I reckon it’s okay.  We don’t want to get too serious all the time, do we?

The FTSE All Share

I really am out my depth with the content here to say whether or not this is sufficiently clear to the audience.  The layout could do with a bit more breathing space though – a ruthless Tufte fan could save them a fair bit of ink here.

Time for some Lines

These could be cleaned up considerably.  Ditch the gradient, and if you’re going to fill in under the line, make it go all the way to the line – don’t leave that awkward gap between the blue shading and the orange line.  The gridlines aren’t really necessary here, nor are all the tick marks.  The bolding on the y-axis seems unnecessary too, and I don’t know what putting the y-axis on the right is achieving – looks a bit odd.  These graphs do serve their purpose well, but they could be a touch more elegant.


Into The Vault

A little more labeling could explain these charts better – I feel they might be saying something quite interesting, the top one at least.  I wasn’t sure about shading under the top line (GDP cumulative change) then having another line plotted on the same chart (New Data).  I haven’t seen this before.  It does highlight the gaps between the 2 charts quite nicely.  If you get rid of the gradient and the white gapes around the lines, I think it might work okay.  The purists might take some convincing though.

A Gift From The Gods?

Wow.  It really is infographic time here.  It starts off with a strong premise – Thorium is meant to be a more efficient form of nuclear power and will produce less waste.  But then starts with the chemical symbol and when it was discovered.  Is that really essential detail and context for the story?  The diagram of the reactor isn’t bad, but could be vastly improved with better (direct) labelling.

The last bit really is left lacking.  I’d love to have seen a visual comparison showing how much waste the different methods create.  That said, with the numbers involved (1 ton to 7m tons) it might not be possible.  But the visuals they’ve opted for are actually doing the story a dis-service here – the green weights make Thorium look nowhere near as efficient (comparatively) as it really is (by these measures).  And if this is the core point, why is it buried at the bottom after a chemistry lesson?


 A Purple Elephant Balancing on a Pin?

“It would take an elephant balanced on a pencil to break a sheet of graphene no thicker than Cellophane” – I don’t know, I’m all for metaphors and comparisons, but I don’t think this will go down as a classic.  I’ll bypass commenting on the rest.  Next.

Stats of the Week

Not much really being visualised here – more of an illustration.


Rugby Rugby Rugby

This diagram is a very nice addition to the article.  It could be slightly clearer in parts and lose a bit of unnecessary content, but it really does help you appreciate how the try was scored.

I find these kind of graphs quite hard to read.  I can’t really compare the two teams visually, and really end up relying on the numbers themselves.  At least the above keeps the centre point in a consistent position, unlike the example below which makes things even trickier.

Donuts galore again.  They really don’t work too well when there are zeros involved though, do they? (see below)

Why have they tried to attribute the zeros above to some arbitrary part of the circle?  At least they’ve avoided that flaw below:

And then another nice rugby diagram (maybe over-powered by the text a touch)…

Some more back to back bars…


I almost missed the glaring error here first time round.  Each team has won 100% of their matches, but the donuts make it look like they won 50%.  Hey, if you’d stood those bar graphs up the right way, I might have been able to compare the goal differences between the three teams – just a thought.  And how useful are the statistics combining the goals for and against all 3 teams together?  What am I to take from that?


Maps are great if you want to show a geographic pattern, but it’s not possible to do that here.  The patterns would have been more visible, if the bar graphs all shared the same base line, or you could have gone for bubbles on a map showing the % increase (or the actual price).  As it stands, your eyes have to do a lot of work to spot any patterns here.  Seems pretty sparse on data too – it’s not really how parking charges have increased across Britain – it’s only ten places, of varying type (a few London boroughs compared with some towns and some cities).

Supplement:  India

Pie Trumps Pyramid

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the pyramid at the bottom makes me long for a pie or a donut.  It’s nigh on impossible to figure out the comparisons here.  And as for the concentric bubbles at the top, bleh, I don’t know where to start.  Next.

Bubbling with Energy

The top 3 bubbles in this one are basically pull-quote statistics.  I just wish they hadn’t positioned them as if they are meant to be compared.  35% is imported vs 8% which is renewable vs 6.4% – the amount their energy requirements are expected to grow.  What on earth am I meant to do with that?!

The bottom part of the chart above is unfortunately pretty meaningless unless it’s compared to another country.  I have no idea what that’s like as a portfolio of energy sources.  What does the UK use for example?


This really seems like a bunch of stats.  There doesn’t seem to be any point to the diagram, other than ‘look – lots of people live here’.  Oh and there are also lots of airports.

Mobile Phones

The stats in the top part of this are actually quite interesting, but the comparison could have been easier with bars.  Without the numbers, it’s really not easy to see what proportion of the country have mobile phone subscriptions.  And then there’s the mobile-phone-styled-stacked-bar-graph at the bottom.  No comment.

So there you have it.  A quick run through of the Sunday Times’ use of data visualisation this week.  I really had hoped to find better examples being committed to print.  The simple bar graphs and the rugby diagrams stuck out as high points for me.  But what do you think?  Am I being too harsh?  Not harsh enough?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Visualisation in Medicine from Balloon Sinuplasty - Acclarent UK

Visualisation in Medicine

The following infographic looks at the use of visualisation in medicine, in particular how MRI scans work.

The graphic explains how signals containing information about the body are generated, analysed and mapped to provide insightful images.  These visualisations (or visualizations) allow important diagnoses to be made, and ultimately, save lives.

(Click through for larger image)

Visualisation in Medicine from Balloon Sinuplasty - Acclarent UK

Image by  Acclarent UK


Disclosure:  This is a client infographic for Acclarent UK, a medical device company, specialising in endescopic procedures for chronic sinusitis treatment.

Data Viz Gets Physical

While many are busy churning out formulaic infographics, it’s great to see others being considerably more creative.  Some endeavour to come up with new forms of visualisation, and others focus on gathering new data or experimenting with design.

The visualisations featured in this post explore the use of different materials for representing data.  I was prompted to write this post by the latest edition of Visualisation Magazine (the handmade volume).

I did see a post criticising one of the visualisations I’ve included here for its lack of scientific accuracy, but I think that was missing the point.  There have been some hot debates on such topics in data visualisation recently, and they are worthwhile conversations.  And if accuracy was the goal of the following pieces, they could justifiably come under scrutiny.  But if the intent was to challenge the way we think about visualisations and capture people’s attention with something new and curious, for my money, they succeeded.

With that said, I hope you enjoy the collection…

Data Visualisation made from Hazard Tape wrapped round a fence


Data Visualisation photograph of men wrapped in hazard tape
















Many of the entries in this post are by Jose Duarte.  If you visit Jose’s Flickr profile, you might be able to get a free Handmade Visualisation Toolkit from him.

And for more physical visualisations, check out Visualisation Magazine.

UPDATE:  One more example I forgot to include: