In the early part of every year, my church, Parker Hill Community Church, takes a weekend for vision casting. We call this a Vision Weekend and we take this time to communicate what was accomplished through our church over the past year and use it as a springboard for what is ahead. This year we decided to take a more visually appealing approach than we ever have before.
Enter the infographic, a highly effective way to aggregate and visualize various forms of data in a creative and memorable way. Infographics have gained a lot of popularity in recent years. When they’re well designed, they are eye-catching and interesting, even if the data or subject matter is less so.
This was our first rodeo with an infographic. And as I’m somewhat new to legitimate graphic design, I had to learn on the fly. Here are 5 importants steps I learned along the way that will inform the way we approach data-driven projects in the future.
Set Your Constraints
Time and budget are the most common externally imposed constraints most church communicators will encounter. But what about self-inflicted limitations? When it comes to creative projects, the mind of a designer reels with possibilities. Setting up constraints on the creative end can be extremely effective all the way through the project. Think in terms of limiting the color palette, or design approach. For instance, our infographic is limited to ten colors and utilizes a flat vector-style graphic designed completely in Illustrator.
This approach gave us a predictable framework to work within, and allowed us to count on a particular outcome from the design. This was ultimately important because we had multiple destinations for the graphic: print, screen, and motion graphics. By planning ahead of time, I was able to make sure the final graphic translated accurately across all different mediums.
Infographics lend themselves to a limited palette. It’s helpful, when communicating data, to use color in predictable ways so that the viewer can quickly scan to find what’s important, what’s descriptive, etc.
Collect and Distill the Data
A lot of church goings-on are very metric-friendly and are quantifiable. (If you’re not already using a church database system to track these things, I would highly recommend it.) Connect with the ministry leaders that can get you accurate data and also provide insight for what goes into the information they give you.
The fun really begins when the info has been collected and it’s sitting in an ominous pile on your desktop. For my project, I started by dividing up the data into sections like Church Stats, Local Impact, and Global Outreach. Those three categories covered the three major areas we wanted to draw attention to during our Vision Weekend. Depending on the size of your project, you could easily add more, but that will also add to the complexity of the design project. The key is to create digestible pieces that can be quickly viewed and understood. As you assemble the data, look for the story it’s telling about your church or event. The ultimate goal is to take a bunch of numbers and tell a memorable story with them using simple graphics and text. Keep the pursuit of story at the center of your project.
There are a lot of ways you can approach the design of an infographic. Maybe too many. Austin Kleon says this about creativity in his book, Steal Like an Artist: “In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out.”
After our data was organized and we had a framework of the story we wanted to tell with it, I was feeling a little like “Okay, now what?” So I hit up one of my favorite infographic resources, Visual.ly, for some inspiration. One of the ways I source design inspiration is through scanning design thumbnails. Sites like Visual.ly, Behance, Dribbble, etc. are great resources for this method. I can pay attention to what grabs me at a glance, and what has a negative effect on me as well. If I lock into something, I’ll take a closer look. What I love about this process is the way a design begins to form itself in the mind. Shapes, colors, and ideas begin to find their place in the design before I’ve even opened up Photoshop or Illustrator. Relish this process of inspiration as you decide what to include and, more importantly, what to leave out.
Doodles and Wireframes
Now, I have Level Zero sketching skills, but my wife Jennifer, who is a too-legit artist, has taught me a lot, directly and indirectly, about the visual arts over the years. For every painting she does, she begins with an under painting—a sort of painted sketch that helps layout the composition and informs the rest of the work. This is an uber-helpful process when jumping into an infographic project.
Because of the scope of an infographic, sketching out the bones of the design is extremely helpful, especially when done to scale, or thereabouts, and in an “analog” environment. There is so much freedom in a pencil and an eraser. For me, it’s much easier to work this phase on a tactile surface with simple tools, rather than attempting to render it digitally. It comes back to the concept of purposeful limitations. If I attempt to wireframe or sketch an idea in Photoshop, I’m doomed. Inevitably, I end up choosing fonts, hassling with perfect pixel placement, wrestling with color, and on and on. But when I grab a sketchbook, kick back at my desk and just draw an idea (even though I’m deficient in any real drawing skills) I find that the actual production of the design in a digital space goes much smoother and my sketch becomes a roadmap for the rest of the project.
Wrap-Up and Delivery
This was our first step into the world of infographics, and we were bound to have some mistakes, mix-ups, and do-overs. One of them was a lack of clear understanding of what we were driving toward. As often happens, the project started out smaller than it ended up. What began as a simple web graphic, morphed into three large banners, a 2-minute motion graphic, a web graphic, and almost a print version.Next time around, we’ll spend more time on hashing out the plan for each deliverable version of the graphic so that we can spend less time repurposing designs along the way. And that’s true for any project.
I’m a communications guy playing in graphic design; words are my thing. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting eyes on the work before it goes before the masses. (The best artists and designers I know are terrible at spelling and they like it that way!) If you’re neck deep in the design, you’re probably not in a position to be critical about the accuracy of content. That’s why it’s so important to get fresh eyes on the words and the data before committing to anything permanent. For me, there’s nothing worse than a typo or inaccuracy in a final piece—I get sweaty just thinking about it.
Church infographics are a ton of work, I won’t deny it. But they are well worth the effort. We’ve had members showing their visiting friends the infographic banners in our lobby, walking them through each of the different things we did. It allows people to say “Hey, I was a part of that!” and to see how their own giving and serving contributes to the larger picture. I’m also impressed by the way it pulls a team together. This project involved the majority of our staff in some way or another. And the reward of seeing the year’s work summed up in this way was truly inspirational. And now that we’ve done it once, we’ve got tons of ideas for how to make it better next year and we can’t wait to get started.
If you’re considering venturing into an infographic, I’d be happy to share more of our experience with you.
Check out the web version of the Parker Hill Year In Review infographic.
View the motion graphic video below.