My inspiration for this infographic was based on my recent research into the field of publication. I’ve found that there is a lot of confusing information out there, and most people I’ve spoken to don’t seem to understand all of the same ideas. For example, I have some writer friends on Twitter who are very excited about self-publication, but who don’t really know how it works or how much money they can expect to make. I thought it might be useful for them to have something that showed the important information all in one place.
Since the questions many writers face with publication usually involve decisions between one path or another, I decided a comparison of the various types of publication would be the most useful. From the beginning I planned to have a variety of three-way comparisons that would clearly lay out some of the major differences. This way people can see clearly what their options are, and make easy visual judgments about what is the most common, popular, or useful to them. A lot of the information I found normally didn’t make the comparisons as clear; the numbers were usually spread out in separate paragraphs without any direct explanation to link one number to another. This created some confusion, such as the articles I read making it hard to tell when they were referring to overall publication statistics, print books, or ebooks. Some of the numbers were left out of those articles entirely, and I had to extrapolate them (for example, the 6% of books being independently published weren’t mentioned at all, and I had to figure out that number after subtracting the self and traditional publication numbers).
One of the biggest limitations I found was that piktochart didn’t seem to have any good options for helping me align the various icons and background shapes I used. I had to eyeball a lot of things, and I feel like under close examination there will be visual flaws in the layout. I would have preferred if the program had a tool similar to Prezi’s that showed me when two objects were the same size, centered correctly, or aligned on the same horizontal or vertical point as each other.
I also felt I generally lacked enough artistic skill to make the layout visually appealing. I had to judge color choices and shapes simply by what I thought looked good. If I were to make an infographic in a professional environment, I would probably want to work together with someone with more artistic skills, collaborating on the design but letting the other person make the graphical choices while I did the writing. Either that, or practice enough myself to attain a higher level of skill than what I had here.
I laid out the text of the infographic with two types of hierarchy in mind. One was a change in color, which Lupton suggests can be uses for emphasis (p. 132) instead of italic or bold font. I decided that the headings for each grid would stand out well in color, compared to the plain white font I used for most of the text. Since I was laying out the text in a nonlinear fashion, I thought this emphasis would be a good way to draw the reader’s attention to each heading first. If I had been writing a normal paper where everything was linear and the reader followed the text from the top to the bottom, headings could have simply been placed between paragraphs, possibly in a larger font size. The layout of the infographic, however, meant that sometimes the headings were either above, below, or to the side of the information they related to. I felt this meant they needed to stand out in some way.
A second hierarchical method I used was simply changing the font size. The headings for each grid are in the largest size, the sub-headings (such as for self, indie, and traditional publication) are in a smaller size, and the main blocks of informative text are in the smallest. I wanted to avoid excessively fancy font choices, since they would have been unnecessary and distracting. Likewise, I avoided adding too much fancy imagery in the text frames, and stuck with simple colored blocks as backgrounds. I felt that either fancy font or excessive imagery would be what Tufte calls “chartjunk” (p. 152). Even some of the basic icons picktochart provides seemed like they would be content-free distractions and pointless decoration, which Tufte disapproves of. I therefore kept my use of icons to a minimum.
I tried to use a consistent color scheme throughout the infographic, in order to avoid distraction and unnecessary decoration. Even though I was already using simple colored blocks, I felt that too much color would make the infographic harder to read and ruin the continuity of design. Even when choosing my initial template, I avoided ones that seemed too “busy.” Pointless color and cartoonish design would have gone against Tufte’s suggestions that a design should be clear and efficient (p. 79).
I also attempted to make visual comparisons easy to see as a supplement to the numerical information being shown. Tufte suggested that information always needs to be compared with something specific and appropriate (p. 127). He also discusses how a good graphic should visually show the ratio between different statistics, with text included right alongside the graphics. Piktochart didn’t really allow me to make precise measurements, so I settled for rough size differences in the backgrounds on the ebook publication comparisons, with the 87,000 total ebooks in the largest box, and the 12,000 that were independently published in the smallest box. I then supplemented this with icons that give a quick visual comparison (1 book icon = 10000 sales).
The sections of the infographic were laid out to keep related information close to each other. I wanted to make sure that when the reader looks at the infographic, they can easily tell which information is related and should be considered together. Tufte suggests keeping relevant material within the common visual field (p. 91) in order to keep them unified. I kept this in mind when laying out each grid, so that all the information on print books is together in one place, ebooks in another place, distribution of money in another, and so on. Also, even though most of the grids have a three-way comparison between different pieces of information, I made sure to use a slightly different design on each. The first is triangles, the second rectangles, the third parallelograms, etc. This keeps each grid self-contained as its own block of information, with the intent of guiding the reader to view each grid as if it were a separate “page.”
All together my approach was to use simple design, with the goal of keeping the infographic plain while remaining visually appealing. The focus was on the content, not on artistic design for the sake of artistic design.
Lupton, E. (2010). Type (2nd Expanded ed.). New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.
Tufte, E. (2006). Beautiful evidence (3rd ed.). Cheshire, CT: Author.