One of the most panic-stricken feelings surfaces when you don’t have the first clue on how to accomplish something your boss has asked you to do. This post is inspired by the real life story of a PR account executive tasked with creating a political infographic as a marketing piece for one of their clients. As intelligent and capable as this individual is, he like many others is directed to a destination on a new marketing landscape that he didn’t even know was on the map. The marketing landscape hasn’t just changed; it’s in a constant state of flux. The wonderful thing about that is it allows us to explore and experiment new ideas – to merge old and new to create something totally innovative. On the flipside, we’ve got legions of employees that simply aren’t getting trained in these new tools. Infographics is one of these tools. It’s not just a way of doing something; infographics have set up an entire new system of thinking about information sharing. For the unnamed PR account executive, and for the countless others vexed by tasks they haven’t the first clue about, this guide’s for you. Save, bookmark, or Pocket this link for the next time you’re assigned with an infographic.

Step 1: Gathering the Research

An infographic isn’t just a pretty picture. The best infographics will strike a balance between data and design. Your first move is to do your research. Gather your data and see what sort of facts and figures you have. You’ll likely come across all types of data, including charts, paragraph summaries, and other pickings you’ll have to dig through. Your job is to look for the sound bytes in the data. Can you reduce a paragraph down to a single statement or two, or better yet a figure? Does your data allow for cross comparisons between two categories or across a period of time? The best data shows significance in either value or movement/changes. You job is to figure that out. You could turn to infographic service providers like Visual.ly, who’ll do this for you – and that’s totally fine. However, you should also do your due diligence and come up with the information yourself, particularly if yours is a niche industry that requires some skill and background knowledge. While you’re at this step, make sure you save all your sources for cross-referencing and citing at the base of your infographic.

Step 2: Design the Data

You can hand over your project to a graphic design or even any number of service providers like the one listed above. Whatever route you choose, I highly advise having some idea of your design. It’s understandable if you’re not in any type of marketing affiliated department and haven’t the slightest clue about design – and that’s fine. However, if your department falls under marketing, then you need to get cued up on design.

Take a moment to look up infographic samples, starting with any that might be similar in content to yours. Here you’re not looking to copy, but to avoid reinventing the wheel and boring your audience. I encourage keeping your eyes peeled for all types of graphics. You might be inspired by an infographic for a completely different subject, or you might choose to “Frankenstein” your design by picking various elements from you favorite five designs. If you’re delegating your designs, you’ll be doing yourself and your designer a favor by going in with some idea of how you want to visualize your information. Even if your designer doesn’t go with exactly what you had in mind, it helps them to know how you wanted to frame your data. After all, designers aren’t master mind readers – they’re master executioners. A great designer or service provider will take your inspiration (which essentially your design is) and come up with something fantastic.

DIY Infographics vs. Custom Designed Infographics

If you chose to go through a DIY infographic SaaS like Infogr.am (or other similar tools), know that while you will be saving on designer fees, you’ll be losing out on originality. Free services like Infogr.am are template based, meaning that you can’t create an original infographic. This also means that you infographic drowns in the pool of hundreds of thousands of other graphics that all tend to look like clones of each other. Of course, that’s not a problem if you’re just looking for creative data communication. However, it becomes a problem if you’re seeking to use your infographics and a content marketing tool.