Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Online Tools: Infographics

I decided that I wanted to make an infographic as part of my annual report this year.  So at 12 p.m. yesterday I started playing around with a couple sites and 11 hours later, I had an infographic!  Seriously, I spent forever on this.  But sometimes you just have to give yourself permission to be obsessive and inefficient so you can learn a new skill, right?

Fortunately, I am really happy with the results, and I have a few thoughts on the sites I tried and on infographics in general.


First, of all, my fave and the site I used for my finished product:

Piktochart

I can't believe it's free!  Piktochart initially appealed to me, because it was laid out the way I wanted: in a long vertical column but wide enough to fit two or more charts next to each other.  It also has robust chart-making and picture-editing tools, and a variety of export options.

There are a few little tricks you have to learn--for example, you have to hold the shift key while resizing something if you want to keep the proportions the same.  But it's pretty intuitive: drag and drop to add text boxes, charts, and pictures; select an object to change its color, angle, or transparency.

I only came across one really frustrating glitch: sometimes when you make a chart, the chart-maker puts all this space between the chart and the legend.  And you can't remove the space, because it's all one object.  The solution to this, however, is pretty simple: just hide the automatically created legend and make your own. 
Of all the tools I tried, Piktochart gave me the most choices and helped me achieve a professional look. 
Piktochart also gave me myriad choices for saving and/or exporting my finished product.  I have no problem with the big old logo that gets slapped on the bottom of my free infographic, because I'm happy to promote such a useful and flexible tool. 

However, there are two other tools that are worth mentioning.  They have fewer options, but they are both easier to use and each one has a one or two features that Piktochart doesn't.

Infogr.am

Infogr.am looks like it's designed for viewing on mobile devices: the layout is one long vertical column, and you can't put two things next to eachother.

The interface is very spare and easy to use.  You still get lots of chart options, so it's a great one for mathy infographics.  In fact, it has a few charts that Piktograph doesn't offer, like a treemap, a word cloud, a progress bar or gauge, and a candle stick or waterfall financial graph.

You're not encouraged change colors and fonts around on this one--you just choose a theme at the beginning and the website makes decisions for you.  You can go a few clicks in if you really want to change each color manually, but it's not the easiest. 

In addition to text and graphics, infogr.am allows you to add video, or a map--but it appears you can only add a world map.  It's not like you tap into Google Maps or anything really flexible.  Also, the site does not offer you a menu of cute little icons.

Infogr.am is good for numbers-based infographics that you only want to publish online.
My main problem with infogr.am is that you can't download your infographic unless you go pro--you can only publish it online. 

Easel.ly

Easel.ly is a good choice if you want to make a more whimsical, less mathy infographic.  The default layout is a bit wider than the other choices--closer to an 8.5x11 sheet of paper--and you can slap text and pictures on there any way you like.

Easel.ly does not include a chart-maker, but you can of course save your excel charts as pictures and upload them.  However, that means you have to make sure the design stays consistent.

Speaking of design, you can choose a theme on this site (or just a cool background), plus there's a lovely array of cute icons, arrows, banners, etc.  But you have to change the elements one by one to your specifications.  For example, if you add a text box, the color and size of the text doesn't default to something that matches your theme.
Easel.ly definitely allows you the most freedom to lay out your infographic the way you want, so it's the best choice for non-linear infographics. 

But the thing that really drove me crazy, and still would make me pause before using this site, is that if you resize your text box, it resizes the text in the box.  So if you set your text to 12 points, and then you drag the corner of the text box to make it a larger size, the text will get larger, too, but it will still say it's "12 points."  So how do you standardize the size of your text??

On a positive note, Easel.ly does allow you to download your graphic as well as share it online.  

Finally

A couple thoughts about these products in general:

  • When designing for print, I was taught to use text size to create a hierarchy between headings, subheadings, and body text.  But when creating for the screen, I noticed that many nice looking infographics use colors to show make certain text stand out.

  • One thing you have to get used to is entering your own line breaks. In MS Publisher and other design software I've used, you type or paste text into a box and it just flows to fit the box.  With these tools, it's a pain to resize the box and you don't even have the option of adding borders.  The boxes aren't important--you decide how much space the text will take up by hitting the enter key when you want one line to end.

  • You have to know what data you want to include before you get started.  These tools don't magically help you figure out what you're trying to show.  I was most successful when I sketched what I wanted on paper and then recreated it online. 

  • Why do so many of these tools have punctuation in the middle of their names?

1 comment:

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