Exclusive conversations about infographics and data-vizualization
Do a Google search for the term ‘infographics’.
Done? Now, I bet one of the top 3 results will be a blog called Cool Infographics. Am I right?
For years, this site has been referenced on the Internet as one of the first places to visit if you want to know more about infographics. It highlights some of the best examples of data visualizations and infographics found in magazines, newspapers and on the Internet, and it is continuously evolving, with new features and resources added for the thousands of daily visitors.
Soon, the site gave birth to an Information Design company, InfoNewt, as the Internet started to transform infographics into ‘the next big thing’. But data visualization is much, much more than ‘tower-illustrated graphics’, and Randy Krum, the founder of Cool Infographics, knows it well.
Randy joined us for a brief conversation about the blog, InfoNewt and the use of infographics as a marketing tool for corporations.
Visual Loop (VL)- Can you tell our readers a little bit about your professional background, and what led to the creation of Cool Infographics?
Randy Krum (RK) – I don’t come from a graphic design background. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering, and I spent 15 years working for companies with big, internal data sets like consumer research, sales numbers, competitive assessments and even inventory systems. My office walls were covered with my favorite examples of data visualization designs I had gathered, and they were inspiration to me for visualizing my own data in presentations and posters. I launched Cool Infographics in July 2007 using links to the graphics I had hanging on my walls. There were only a couple visualization sites at the time, and I had no expectation the blog would last longer than a year.
VL – Cool Infographics is arguably one of the first blogs dedicated to feature and review infographics. In your opinion, what were the main changes in this field, since your first post?
RK – In my presentations about infographics, I share this Google Insights chart of the growth of online searches for the word “infographics.” Of course, infographics aren’t actually new. There are many historical examples of infographic and data visualization designs from the last hundred years. The term infographics was really confined to newspaper designers and was a behind-the-scenes term used in the production process.
In the last two years, the Internet has matured to a point where people are now using it as their primary source of news and information. Photos and charts have always improved readership of stories in print, and it’s even stronger online. At the same time, online tools like Tumblr, Flickr, Blogger and WordPress had helped personal publishing become mainstream. People using those tools quickly learned the same lesson; that visuals drive traffic and engagement, and infographics were often more effective than photos.
In the last two years, the Internet has matured to a point where people are now using it as their primary source of news and information. Photos and charts have always improved readership of stories in print, and it’s even stronger online.
VL – Besides blogging, you’ve also been experimenting with Social Media for the past years. How important is that work, and what have you learned so far from those experiences?
RK – Social Media marketers and the SEO industry have built infographics into a new type of online media. Based on years running Cool Infographics and watching some cool designs go viral where other great designs fell flat has fine tuned my appreciation for what makes a successful infographic design online. Popular, viral infographics these days usually have a strategy of marketing and outreach behind them to help them succeed.
I still use Twitter as my main social media platform. I find that very ironic since it’s so hard to share images on Twitter, but that’s where I get the most responses and comments from people. Other platforms like Facebook, Google+, Digg, LinkedIn and StumbleUpon all drive traffic, but have never been as effective as Twitter for me. Pinterest is a new social media platform dedicated to sharing images, so it’s a no-brainer for infographics. I have learned that I now have an entirely different audience that follows the Cool Infographics Gallery on Pinterest compared to the audience that follows the blog and wants to read additional discussion and comments about the designs.
Social Media marketers and the SEO industry have built infographics into a new type of online media.
VL – You now have an infographic agency as well, InfoNewt. What drove you to create this new business?
RK – While posting to Cool Infographics in the early years, I would occasionally get requests from people that wanted me to design infographics for them, but I didn’t have the time. In 2009, I was caught up in a large layoff from the company I was working for, and suddenly had some time available. I started responding to the requests for infographic design projects, and by the end of 2009, I was working full-time on designing infographics for clients. InfoNewt was born.
VL- Going from Curator to Creator is a big step. What were the main challenges you faced to establish yourself in this competitive market?
RK – About half of my work is for use internally within client companies. Designs are based on confidential data, and are used for presentations, handouts, posters, etc. I have a huge advantage coming from a corporate background, because I understand the data they have available. The challenge is that I can’t share any of those designs to create my own portfolio online. For any design business, potential clients want to see your work, and you get hired for projects because they like what they see in your prior designs.
So, I had to create some infographics using public data so I could share them online. This need for a portfolio is what led me to create many of my online designs like The Caffeine Poster, My Digital Life 2.0, the Bedford Budget Poster and the Online Conversation Map. These were huge projects I was able to get passionate about, but they were personal designs without anyone paying for them. Posting these personal designs online are what drove the initial growth and success of InfoNewt as a company.
VL – When you create an infographic for a client, what are your main concerns?
RK – The three most important, and often the most challenging, objectives when designing infographics for clients are:
Tell a story. Everybody has data, but the good infographic designs use data visualization, illustrations and text together to tell a compelling story. Many clients want to throw every statistic they can find into the design, but confusing infographics that don’t tell a clear story are never popular. Good story telling and good design is the magic combination.
Identify the Key Message. You need to determine the key message at the beginning of a design project because most people won’t read the whole infographic. A successful design will communicate the key message to the reader in less than five seconds. That way the people that don’t scroll to the bottom or read the whole infographic still leave understanding the message you wanted to convey.
Minimize the Text. If people see too much text in an infographic design, they will give up and move on without reading it. Many clients struggle with this one because they want to include multiple paragraphs of text about their company, their product or why their information is so important. There is definitely a threshold that once you include too much text, the audience stops reading.
Many clients want to throw every statistic they can find into the design, but confusing infographics that don’t tell a clear story are never popular. Good story telling and good design is the magic combination.
VL – What can we expect from Cool Infographics/ InfoNewt in the future?
RK – The Cool Infographics site will continue to evolve. I recently added a Cool Jobs page to the site for companies to post freelance and full-time job opportunities for infographic designers, and I have a few more ideas in the works. Infographics are quickly spreading into other types of media like video and interactive designs, and the blog will have to adapt to share the best examples I can find.
InfoNewt is growing, and we will be experimenting with different types of media and better ways to share infographics online. Data visualizations for presentations, posters and business plans seem to be the most popular use of infographics inside client companies, and we are doing some great work with presentation tools like PowerPoint, Keynote and Prezi. Personally, I’ve begun doing more speaking engagements about good data visualization and infographic design to MBA classes, professional organizations and even the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
VL – Thank you so much, Randy, and keep up the great work!
RK – Thanks Tiago. I’m excited to see your new site design, and look forward to watching how you continue to grow Visual Loop!
We thank Randy for taking the time to answer these questions, and wish him all the best. If you haven’t done that yet, add Cool Infographics to your ‘must-visit’ sites’ and connect with Randy on Twitter.