The stale corporate aesthetic of bar graphs and pie charts is no more. “Data visualization” – also known as infographics – is huge right now. Infographics are an excellent way to get the word out about a company’s activities or simply explain a social phenomenon in a way that is visually compelling.

But what exactly makes for a good infographic? Do a Google search and you’ll find there are about as many opinions on the matter as there are infographic designers. There are some core tenets of the craft, though, that just about everyone can agree on.

We’ve summed them up for you, along with some great work by 99designers to illustrate.

1. Tell a story

Think of every infographic not just as an arrangement of data but as a story with a beginning, middle and end: question/thesis, data, and conclusion. Arrange them accordingly.

This requires understanding the context of the data at hand and it will pay off by grabbing viewers’ attention and guiding their understanding, rather than losing them in a jumble of meaningless numbers.

barefoot

This infographic is a great example of storytelling. It breaks down the seven steps to barefoot running, giving tips and calling out common problems with clarity and style. Arrows and connecting lines guide the eye through the infographic with each major section separated with a thicker red line.

2. Find your hooks

Every infographic has its hooks — those especially interesting, surprising or crucial morsels of data that are key to understanding the “story” that is unfolding. Once you have these, emphasize them visually: make them bigger and bolder than the surrounding information, allow more space and position them at the top or bottom rather than the middle.

This design for a Record Deal infographic does a significantly great job emphasizing its hooks. Data like “500,000 copies,” “$5 Million” and “$375,000” are much bolder than surrounding text.

The design is also broken up into distinct sections using color blocks, which is a smart idea. The only shortcoming here is that the designer didn’t visualize the fact the $375,000 is debt rather than gain, which would have been quite easy to do.

Both of the designs below do a good job of emphasizing hooks using placement, size and color.

3. Show, don’t tell

This may seem obvious, but try to minimize the amount of text where possible. Keep copy brief and to the point in small clusters.

Where you do have text, make sure to balance it with icons and interesting typography. Make it easy to skim by using bullet points, rather than full sentences. Utilize plenty of negative space to air out denser blocks of text.

Reading, for better or for worse, is so not 21st century.

This infographic functions as a job listing, but instead of plain bullet points listing candidate requirements, it uses a more visually engaging panel of icons. As a whole, this design is perfectly balanced in format and color.

4. Switch it up

You can express a given set of data in a handful of ways. Your job, when crafting an infographic, is to choose visualization tools that are both immediately easy to understand and more interesting than a standard graph (though these are certainly okay when they are the clearest approach).

Switch it up: if you’re using the same type of visualization tool more than once in a single infographic, you’re probably not getting creative enough.

viaDesign by galschjodt

This design is a great example of using an unconventional and diverse set of graphic visualizations. The infographic incorporates different elements of a college dorm room for a fun and playful data showcase.

5. Color and font

As with any form of design, choosing nice colors — a 3-tone palette is usually a good choice — and strong fonts are key. This is especially true in infographics where you’re stuck working with more text than you would like.

coldpress

While this infographic is fairly text heavy, the designer manages to make it feel light and airy with plenty of negative space and a soothing color palette. Bold green text calls out the important facts, while the illustrations help the reader digest each chunk of information.

Seen any cool infographics lately? Share them in the comments!