Creating Kickass Infographics On A Budget

February 7, 2012
By Danika Atkins in Online Marketing

Every so often, I’m tempted to turn infographic sightings into some sort of drinking game. But then I realize the danger in consuming that much alcohol.

Not to be too cynical. After all, infographics are not dead. Just because we’re all tired of the buzzword doesn’t mean that data visualization, as a whole, is a thing of the past. Consuming information in easy to understand, visually appealing, digestible formats will never lose its popularity (if you need confirmation, just check out the Egyptian hieroglyphs). And corporations have oodles of data about their industry or products that could be interesting to a wide audience.

But not everyone has the internal resources to develop a flashy infographic to dazzle their audience.  If that’s you and you’re short on either dollars, time frame or even data — fear not.  As we’ve seen time and time again, simple visualizations with good data can be just as popular as high budget, flashy infographics.

Of course, having a solid content promotion strategy from the get-go will yield the best return on your infographic spend, but it’s not necessary to spend hundreds of dollars on a designer to create interesting data visualizations. Many of the tools you need are sitting right on your desktop waiting to be used.  After all, the best way to maximize your bottom line is to remove those unnecessary costs.

Don’t be afraid. Dig in.   Below are some tips on how to create awesome infographics while still pinching those pennies.

Finding Data Sources

Sure, your internal data might tell an interesting story, but try bringing in outside sources to add another dimension and relate it back to the user. You may find interesting correlations between product sales and overall economic activity or seasonal fluctuations (Google Correlate is a good place to find interesting correlations)! It’s important to keep in mind that >correlation is not causation, so avoid bending and twisting the data until it submits to your will.
Not the sexiest site, but a great source of raw data from national, state, and county levels. Data at this level might be a good use for small businesses such as lawyers, doctors, and small retailers who want to create visualizations that appeal to their local community.

CIA World Factbook
Curious about the number of internet hosts in Bulgaria? The CIA World Factbook can probably help you out. The World Factbook contains every statistic you’d ever want to know about any country in the world, continuously updated on a weekly basis. All facts and photos are public domain.

Google Public Data
Search for data across a pool of government and international organizations such as the U.S. Census Bureau, World Economic Forum, and the OECD Factbook. You can display data in line, bar, map, or bubble chart form and embed it directly on your site.

Data Visualization Tools

Around the OSM office, I often refer to Microsoft Excel as being my second husband. I could write an epic poem (or at least a rambling blog post) about all the ways that Excel can make your dreams come true. But there’s a whole world of data visualization tools outside of Excel that can help you turn your drab spreadsheet into a valuable digital asset.

Again, I could offer a ton of advice about Excel, but I often recommend that everyone get comfortable using Pivot Tables. They offer a way to create cross tabulations of large sets of data. Best of all, after you’re done tabulating your data, you can automatically create a PivotChart and continue to slice and dice the data without compromising your chart. To transfer the chart to an image editing tool, select the drop-down arrow next to “Copy” on the home tab, then select “Copy as Picture…”

Fusion Tables
Use your own Excel or Google Spreadsheet, or pull in publicly available data to create embeddable maps, charts, and timelines. You can allow your spreadsheet to be used by others and specify the attribution of the data so that anytime someone uses your data in their visualization, the attribution will appear next to the table name. Google has also stated that public tables may be indexed, adding more visibility and credibility to your brand.

Open Source Options
Open source visualization tools such as, SIMILE Widgets, and Flare allow you to create interactive, Flash-based maps and graphs. Although these tools excel in terms of flexibility, they are not as straightforward and easy to use as Excel and Fusion Tables.

Design Elements

I’m a big proponent of using the skills you have and outsourcing the tasks that are not your strong suit. With so many vector graphic, mapping, and design element resources available, you don’t have to worry about spending time and money creating cute cartoon characters. Use these resources to find the design elements you need.
A library of clip art images with CC0 1.0 dedication (public domain). Open Clip Art Library 2.0 contains over 26,000 images, although not all are suitable for infographic design. Try to stay within the same collection for consistency.

Vector Pack
Not a free option, but AppSumo is currently featuring a deal for 162 design elements for $10. The site offers several free vectors sampled from various packs.

A collection of free user submitted vector graphics. Although there are a ton of options to choose from, select only those design elements that will help highlight, support, and emphasize your data. Vector graphic overload can be distracting or make your data look less professional.

Once you’re ready to put it all together, you can use a simple image editing tool such as Gimp to combine the elements. A simple design scheme such as the one described by Jonathan Patterson can help you construct a visually appealing infographic, or consider hosting your data on a static page. Both formats present link building and customer experience enrichment opportunities.

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