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.