Editor’s note: Lucy Davison is managing director and Simon Dunn is creative director at Keen as Mustard, a London marketing agency. Davison can be reached at lucy@mustardmarketing.com.

We are living through a communication revolution. We all live in an increasingly visual environment. We expect to be entertained; we expect things to be accessible; we expect things to be intuitive. The big question is whether the research industry is keeping up. We all know it’s extremely difficult – and getting harder – to absorb and retain large amounts of information, yet clients are still on the receiving end of seemingly-endless slide presentations.

Infographics have become the poster child for delivering findings with more visual flair. These graphic representations of data seduce and inspire – how often can we say that of our research outputs? But inforgraphics are not always straightforward. Having worked with many researchers on these projects, we have some guidance to ensure success.

Holistic vs. sequential

Infographics can be split into two types: holistic and sequential. For holistic infographics, a single dataset is displayed in a beautiful way. You’d find them on sites such as Information is Beautiful or The Guardian’s Datablog and there is now a plethora of software online to create holistic infographics.

A sequential infographic is a collection of data charts presented in a visual, unified way. Usually it’s a very tall canvas that’s extended to accommodate the content. Marketing research data is naturally suited for sequential infographics. Each sequence is effectively a single piece of data or information and the sequences are linked by a common visual theme and source.

DIY vs. designer

The choice between going it alone or hiring a professional depends on many factors, including your technological or design abilities, time, budget and the type of information you are trying to visualize.

If you are going to create the infographic yourself, you need to select the appropriate software. This can be very time-consuming, as you will need to learn how to identify and use the relevant software.

The advantage of DIY is that you stay in complete control of the project; the timings and vision are yours; and you are not relying on anyone to interpret your intentions. The disadvantage is that you could spend an enormous amount of time struggling to learn the software and tweaking it to achieve the desired look. There is also the greater risk that despite your best efforts, you won’t be happy with the end result.

The other approach is to hire a professional designer. This takes the weight of the technical understanding and design off your shoulders. If managed well, you can also obviate the risk that the designer fails to interpret your instructions. The best marketing research infographics come from visual designers and researchers working together, where the researcher has some visual imagination and the designer is reasonably adept with numbers.

Researchers have the choice of working with an agency, freelancer or, even better, a designer in their own team or company. Remember, you are looking for someone with appropriate skills and experience. Look at their portfolio; they should have samples of their work online. Ask them to talk you through the process. It is best to establish a relationship with a designer before you have an infographic to design.


To get the process started, you need a brief. But it’s remarkable how often this is overlooked. Working with a brief significantly improves the efficiency and creativity of a project. Given that an individual infographic is a fairly small project, the brief must be a short document (no more than two pages) that is concise and clear.

The brief should answer all or most of the following: project description and company/team background; project objectives; a description of the target audience and what action you want them to take; an explanation of how the infographic will be used once created; how it will be branded; the tone of voice for the design; and preferably an overriding message that you want to convey. It should also cover practical issues, such as brand guidelines, timing and what you will need to get the job done.

Share the brief with the designer and go over it. S/he will have questions and you can revise it before starting to ensure you have complete understanding.


Together with the designer, you should discuss possible visual themes for the infographic and brainstorm with them and your wider team, if appropriate. It is vital to have a story. What is the most important message you are trying to communicate? All infographics require very strict editing and focus.

Then ask your designer to create a storyboard. They should sketch out what you need to show, including numbers, text and conceptual images. If you need paragraphs describing what’s going on in the storyboard or diagrams within diagrams, you’re doing it wrong. Stand back and think of the bare minimum that needs to be included to still tell your story. Your designer should encourage you to trim all the fat. Please don’t ask your designer to cram all your ideas in there or it will look a mess, even if it is a designed mess!

Also, avoid using footnotes, keys, showing base sizes and other annotations. A well-designed infographic should be intuitive.

An iterative approach

Once you have agreed on your storyboard, the designer can get to work making it real. They should constantly be in touch, showing you how the design is progressing. Depending on the complexity of the infographic, the turnaround should be about five working days. There should be at least one in-progress meeting, during which you can review work. This is also an opportunity to further hone and delete unnecessary material, such as keys or other visual clutter. Remember, the designer will be using software that you don't have so you won't be able to edit the document yourself.

What to expect

The final output can be shared in many ways: electronically via e-mail and social media and through internal networks. At the outset, your designer should advise you and come up with imaginative ways to use your infographic, such as posters for meetings or animating it in a short film.

Why do it?

Creating an infographic is a time-consuming process. It is not like throwing a PowerPoint together. So why do it? Infographics help promote understanding and impact. The communication of insights and findings is vital to the success of any market research project. What’s more, with the inexorable rise of big data, research needs to sell itself. If researchers don’t create exciting and engaging deliverables, stakeholders will turn to existing data sources or persuasive Internet stats, which might be less valid but more seductive.