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The world in pictures: using infographics

Keep eyes on important information by telling a more visual story

infographicsEvery picture tells a story, but infographics take that story to a whole new level.

When SaskCentral purchased some research that delved into connecting with a younger demographic, it wanted to share that knowledge with its member financial institutions. But the information was lengthy and dry. The organization was concerned that credit unions wouldn’t read past the executive summary.

“No one wants a long-winded document at a time when people are expected to do more with less,” says Keri Schwebius, marketing and communications manager. So SaskCentral decided to use infographics to tell the tale. “We used more pictures to make it more interesting. It was concise so people could digest it easily,” explains Schwebius.

“No one wants a long-winded document at a time when people are expected to do more with less”

—Keri Schwebius, marketing and communications manager, SaskCentral 

Infographics can be simple or complex

That’s the power of the infographic, according to Rikia Saddy, author and strategist at Vancouver-based marketing company Rikia Saddy Strategy.

Infographics can be as simple or as complex as necessary in order to provide a thorough visual representation of data or information. “It isn’t just data and content,” she says.

“It’s presenting it in a way so that the viewer can insert different information — sometimes analysis — and then make a connection that wouldn’t have been seen otherwise.”

Most people are visual learners

To test the effectiveness of infographics, marketers must consider whether they create a higher level of knowledge or facilitate new connections that can be remembered and understood.“The power of the infographic is you can present extraordinarily difficult and complex data in a way that’s quick and easy to understand. The majority of us are visual learners; we take in more information visually than our other senses combined. When we are presented with information visually, the power of communication improves,” explains Saddy.

According to U.K.-based data journalist and information designer David McCandless, the visual element of the infographic is an important way to turn data into meaningful visuals. Because infographics are multilayered, they present information in a variety of ways. “We are all becoming more visually literate. We spend our days looking at the web,” he said during a recent interview with CBC Radio One’s Spark talk show.

Determine a strategy and key messages

Marketers however must do more than simply send the data to a graphic designer for interpretation, says Saddy. They have to figure out their own strategy and key messages, and ensure the designer can illustrate the data. “It’s up to the marketing people to tell the story and the designer to make the story beautiful, easy to understand and fit with the brand message,” says Saddy.

The majority of us are visual learners; we take in more information visually than our other senses combined

It’s a strategy that the $793-million Mennonite Savings and Credit Union in Ontario understands. When considering how to communicate information and data at a fall regional event, marketing manager Frank Chisholm first looked at the theme the credit union would use to decorate the branches, and then included those thematic elements in the infographics.

“We had a pumpkin pie instead of a pie chart,” he says. The report compared share information on loans and deposits by how bushels were filled. The strategy also included the involvement of his graphic designer at the concept stage. In this case, communicating visually was appropriate in both tone and content, but he cautions that sometimes you need to look at a spreadsheet.

“It may be more challenging to pick a visual to represent information and tie it to the brand,” says Chisholm, “but it makes the marketing job more fun.” ◊