10 tips for creating an effective scientific infographic
Scientific infographics are great for explaining complex topics without overwhelming your reader. As a visual tool, they’re effective at communicating big picture ideas to a non-specialist audience, or to new members of your lab who might not be familiar with the literature. There are many great ways to make use of infographics in research.
Now, you may be thinking:
“That’s cool and all, but I’m no graphic designer. How would I even make one?”
No problem at all!
To get started, all you need is a message or a story, and a very basic proficiency in your software of choice. Having some extra graphic sense is just a bonus, and we’re here to fill in some of the gaps for you.
We’ll unpack what makes a great infographic with a rundown of our 10 tips for creating your very own 👇
Tip 1: Define your infographic’s purpose
“Trying to please everyone, pleases no one.”
When thinking about the purpose of your graphic, the first thing to do is identifying your target audience.
Is it the general public? Is it other scientists in your field? Or is it for a non-specialist, but informed audience?
Depending on whom this is will affect your choice of words, images, and level of scientific complexity presented on your infographic. Would you expect your audience to have prior assumed knowledge? Would they be familiar with the images you have in mind?
It’s a good idea to have a chat with someone from your target audience and see if your ideas align with theirs.
Plan, plan, plan!
Tip 2: Choose a reliable software
If you’re in a romantic relationship with PowerPoint, that’s perfectly fine. I won’t get in the way. PowerPoint is pretty reliable for a start, and you’re likely already very proficient in it.
But if you’re looking for some more powerful options to bring your design to life, I highly recommend checking out these free or paid alternatives. We’ve also included some tips on how to make greater use out of PowerPoint!
Tip 3: Choose dimensions that make sense
This is a case where size does matter.
When you considered your infographic’s purpose, did you also consider where you would use it? Is it going to be posted on social media? Is it a print-out for a lab manual or protocol? Does it form part of a scientific poster?
Here’s a rundown of different sizes to match different purposes.
Tip 4: Consider your style of infographic
The options are truly endless here, but to make things simpler, I’ll recommend three multipurpose styles. Though as a disclaimer, your infographic does not need to conform exclusively to one of these styles. We encourage mixing and matching ideas!
Arrows leading from one idea to the next is what makes this style very effective. Your reader will know where to start looking, where to look next, and where to end. A process infographic is particularly great for illustrating anything with steps, like a method or a cycle.
If you’re working with chronological concepts and/or data, a timeline infographic is for you. Lines connecting key events labelled with an indicator of time makes this very intuitive to follow.
Fact sheet infographic
This is the most versatile style. The main thing you’ll have to consider is most pieces of text should be supported by a visual aid. Easily recognisable icons are great ways to supplement your text, and gives your reader an impression of what they’re about to read.
Tip 5: Make your title a main feature
Titles should be BIG and IMPOSING. It’s not just a line of text that drapes over your graphic. It’s a main feature, and we encourage you to take the time to choose a great font for it.
Whether you place your title at the top, or have it elsewhere is completely up to you. Just make sure it’s one of the first things your audience should see. But first, let’s figure out how to write a good one.
A well-written title can be constructed in different ways. Let’s try out these ideas:
These are thought-provoking statements that poke at your audience’s curiosity. You present them a question, and your infographic provides the answer. It’s a neat all-in-one package!
“How does gravity work?”
“Why is the mitochondria the powerhouse of the cell?”
“What evidence is there for extraterrestrial life?”
Short or single word titles
These are great if your infographic is explaining a single central concept. A single word or phrase should ideally be in larger font.
You have the opportunity to add some humour, an idiom, or a play on words in your title. People love snappy and witty titles.
“Fish out of water” - describing the fishing industry.
“In the heat of the moment” - describing increasing global temperatures.
“It takes two to tango” - describing any process with 2 components.
You can also have a subtitle
I’m not talking about a reading aid. I’m talking about a short phrase to accompany your main title. Ideally, this is included with a short or single word title, and can be written, for example, in the style of a catchy title.
“CRISPR: there’s method to the madness”
“Stray populations: it’s raining cats and dogs”
“Solar power: better late than never!”
Tip 6: Limit your word count
All those in favour of banning walls of text say “I” 🙋🏻♂️
Scientific infographics are all about balancing the amount of written information with eye-catching visuals. While we won’t set a hard and fast limit on the word count, we highly recommend aiming for less than 200 words if you can for an A1 print. This gives you just enough to incorporate a good title, and pushes you to explain your ideas in the most concise way possible. And most of all, you’re effectively allocating more room for pictures.
Of course, fit this according to the purpose of your graphic.
I highly recommend writing out the text of your infographic in a separate document before you get to the design part. If you have a plan written up, you’ll be less tempted to deviate from it.
Tip 7: Work with a consistent colour scheme
With great colours, comes great responsibility.
When we’re designing anything, we can often get carried away with colour choices. Pop some red on that graph, some blue for the text, some green on the background…
We’ve created an extensive guide on how to create a colour scheme for scientific posters, and thankfully all of the principles are all the same for all types of graphics.
We’re not burning any retinas today! 👀
Tip 8: Use symbols and icons
Symbols and icons are fantastic if you’re looking for a simple graphic to supplement your text. You can either make them yourself, or access the ready-made ones in the Icons and SmartArt tools in PowerPoint for example. Certain software packages will also have their own library of icons you can access.
If you’re looking for very specific icons, try out an icon depository website. These sites are either free (like FlatIcon), offer a free trial (like Shutterstock), or paid (like NounProject - we love this one!)
You can customise these icons with the colour scheme you’ve decided on before, and then watch them blend seamlessly into your scientific infographic. Here are a few ideas for using icons.
Tip 9: Wrap text around your images
Making an infographic with text can be like playing a game of Tetris, or completing a jigsaw puzzle.
Once you’ve placed your images, you’ll have some space remaining to fill in the text. Or perhaps you’ve done it the other way around?
You can place text in a way that it fits snug into the natural shape of your images. You can play with the left, centre, and right justify settings in your software to make them fit, or even better, if you work in Adobe Illustrator, you can place text inside any shape and see it magically fit!
Tip 10: Experiment with data visualisation!
Is there a more interesting or intuitive way to display data, without making it misleading?
Or have you got too much data, but want to condense it down to 1 or 2 charts? Is there a way to creatively merge charts together?
Check out these great examples from the Visual Capitalist to get you inspired about data visualisation:
Aesthetic of a pie chart + timeline + histogram.
The Best and Worst Pension Plans by Country
Scatterplot, where each country is represented by flags instead of dots.
Area plot with a timeline.
Global Attitudes Towards COVID-19 Vaccines
Annotated donut chart + factsheet.
Looking to get your infographic professionally made?
Making an infographic is a time commitment. There’s only so many hours in the day for pursuing the next groundbreaking scientific discovery after all.
And that’s why Animate Your Science is here to take that burden off your shoulders!
Have you got an itching idea for a scientific infographic for your research and want to bring it to life? Contact us today about turning that idea into a graphic that’ll turn heads in the hallway. ️
Until next time!
Dr Juan Miguel Balbin
Dr Tullio Rossi