The art of the infographic

Designer Henrik Pettersson talks to Laura Powell about what makes a strong infographic

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Q: What information does a designer need to create an infographic page like economia‘s The Graph?

A: A full set of statistics. They don’t need to be edited; they can be raw data – the more varied the better.

So a mixture of long numbers, short numbers, percentages, data sets that work for pie charts and data sets that work for line graphs?

Exactly. Non-numerical data can also work well in infographics. Quotes, for example.

economia’s The Graph

What types of data work best?

I like it when the writer gives me a couple of sets of statistics that don’t necessarily belong together but that work well when combined. For example, if you had a map with the density of high-end supermarkets in regions of the UK and a second set of stats about poverty levels in regions of the UK, you can present them in a way that shows the correlation between the two.

You once told me that an editor you produce infographics for – no names mentioned – makes your job a lot harder. Where does he go wrong?

He edits all of the information down to one ‘superstar number’, and doesn’t give me any other figures to put it into context.

Bloomberg Businessweek

Bloomberg infographic

What’s the first thing you do when you’re given a set of statistics for The Graph?

I think; ‘what’s the most effective way of displaying the message?’ Next, I do little sketches next to each figure or data set to show how I’m going to illustrate it and whether I’m going to use a bar chart or line graph. Then I think of ways of making the graphs or charts look more interesting.

How do you do that?

By experimenting. For example, I was given a statistic recently which showed how many digestive biscuits you’d need to line up around the globe. First, I sketched a globe with lots of biscuits around it. Then, by mistake, I drew a biscuit with a ring around it. It didn’t really make sense but it looked interesting – like a wacky digestive biscuit planet – so I kept it there.

Il Sole 24

China infographic
How well do infographics translate to iPads?

Very well. There are so many ways of making interactive infographics on iPads, which add another element to it.

That sounds complicated.

It is but it works. If you glance at it, you understand it quickly but if you keep looking at it, the picture becomes more layered and detailed.

What two tips would you give to designers creating an infographic for the first time?

Look at magazines to see how other designers do it. And experiment with different styles. You may be given a set of stats in timeline format but they could look more interesting presented as a line graph.

And, finally, which three publications do infographics best?

Bloomberg BusinessweekEureka (a monthly science magazine that ran in The Times until 2012), and IL, a supplement of Italian newspaper Il Sole 24.

Science of the swing infographic


This interview originally appeared on Content Desk on September 15, 2014