Many corporate communicators use infographics to provide audiences with an easy-to-understand graphic representation of otherwise complicated data. When thoughtfully designed, infographics improve comprehension. But many infographics fail to help us understand how things actually work. This article explores the world of animated infographics, showcases several exceptional examples, and provides tips for creating your own.
Animated Infographics: A Few Examples
How to Build a Human
Eleanor’s Lutz is a content creator who takes animated infographics to impressive heights. A designer and PhD student at the University of Washington, she runs the site Tabletop Whale, which contains numerous GIF-infographics (gifographics) on science-based topics.
How to Build a Human (above) presents an index illustrating the human journey from fertilization to birth. In terms of animation, this piece demonstrates how movement can be used in a dynamic manner. The animation does what the diagram shows and what the text says.
Produced without animation, this graphic would do a fair job at communicating effectively. The images, descriptive text, enumerated coordinates, and color codes in the graphic communicate the point. But animation provides a different way of experiencing that information. Its presentation of the process makes the experience a bit more concrete and less abstract.
How a Car Engine Works
The O’Neal brothers run a graphic design site called Animagraffs (the term they use to designate their animated infographic design projects). When How a Car Engine Works was first published in 2013, it went viral, garnering over 30K views in a single day. The example above is only part of the complete infographic.
In this piece, the O’Neal brothers show us how multiple infographics combine to present a large volume of detailed information. This approach is useful when individual infographic components contain nested layers of technical information.
42 Butterflies of North America
Similar to previous examples, 42 Butterflies of North America by Eleanor Lutz, is an index with animated components. Yet in this piece, movement functions differently. It illustrates neither a process (there is none) nor a distinction (you can’t tell butterflies apart by wing motion). The animated movements do not play an active—or correlative—role in conveying information.
Yes, the animation makes the infographic more entertaining, but to leave it at that is to say too little. In terms of material and aesthetic, the movements establish their own terms and space of engagement. The GIF-generated movements of each butterfly are distinct and repetitive. Collectively, they present us with a mass of visual polyrhythms at a large scale.
From a distance, the rhythms add a lifelike quality—a kind of “realism”—to the digital butterfly images. Up close, the synchronized polyrhythms highlight the brilliance of their digitally automated execution. The movement draws attention to the content. The attributes change depending on how we view it, how long we view it, upon what we are focusing, and from what distance.
By adding movement to the mix, this infographic goes beyond the purely informational—toward the aesthetic, in which both design and material are the centerpiece.
Another example of this type of infographic usage is Why Your Brain Craves Infographics by NeoMam Studios.
Why Your Brain Craves Infographics
This is actually a great “static” infographic by NeoMam Studios. Similar to the previous example, the informational payload is delivered through almost everything but the animated components. In this case, the animations (some of which are interactive) appeal to viewer sentiment, namely fun and humor. The piece gets its point across in an easy and entertaining fashion (which is what makes it effective).
Why Use Animated Infographics?
- Novelty: Right now, most businesses aren’t using animated infographics (and many don’t even use static infographics), which presents an opportunity for differentiation.
- Enhanced communications: Infographics are an effective medium for helping customers absorb large amounts of information in an engaging manner. Look at the O’Neal brothers’ example above. If they can present highly technical information in an entertaining and accessible way, imagine what you can do with your own product-related content.
For practical consideration, Eleanor Lutz makes a strong point:
“There’s a trade-off between adding animation and publishing something quickly (or cheaply)… it’s important to know when it’s actually worth it to add animation, and when it’s an unnecessary cost.”
Want to learn more about the pros and cons of infographics and gifographics? The site likeablesocialmedia.org has a wonderful infographic, Gifographic Pros and Cons, which explains this in greater detail.
Creating Animated Infographics
There are a number of approaches to creating animated infographics; some more complex than others. There are also different technologies you can use. For example, Eleanor Lutz uses Photoshop, Illustrator, Chimera, and (more recently) Python.
One popular type of animated infographic that is relatively easy to create is the GIF-infographic. You can do this using Photoshop or any number of other tools. Here’s a wonderful infographic that clearly explains the process (once again by Eleanor Lutz): Tabletop’s Guide to Making GIFs.
A Few More Takeaways
What makes a good animated infographic?
To quote Lutz, “the qualities of a good animated infographic are fundamentally the same as for any other infographic – accurate, succinct, and easy to understand.”
It’s important to note that a well-constructed infographic is able to condense information and also able to accelerate the time of information absorption.
Last but not least, content creators should always consider the element of style. A distinctive brand always has a distinctive style. And good style is neither a superficial, nor manufactured element, but a conscientious effort on the company’s part to express its organizational culture, outward disposition, and overall product perspective.
What type of content is most suitable for creating animated infographics?
Determining what type of content is most suitable for creating animated infographics really depends on the type of infographic you are trying to create, and how you want the animated components to function in terms of delivering information or shaping the viewer’s experience.
For instance, Eleanor Lutz prefers to use animation for content concerning “topics dealing with motion, particularly cyclic motion… some good examples would include car motors or joint movement.” In contrast, the interactive moving eyeball (see image below) in NeoMam Studio’s Why your Brain Craves Infographics plays less of an informational function than an experiential one.
In short, content’s suitability for animation has more to do with the purpose for its animation rather than its intrinsic attributes.
It’s not just about setting content into motion
Animating the infographic format is not just about moving parts. It’s also about the movement of the entire informational and experiential context—everything that moves despite the animation itself. Seen from this angle, static infographics are anything but devoid of movement. In some cases, you might find that animation can even impede the flow of information or the interactive capacity of the viewer.
“Static” infographics already facilitate a multiplicity of movements
How so? The “traditional” static infographic is designed to facilitate a far greater level of movement than text or video alone. Infographics encourage the viewer to browse the content and focus in on what’s important to them. Information is presented in a highly condensed, yet open format. It relies less on narrative, syntactical, or time sequences, and instead presents information as an open map.
Communicating With Animated Infographics Is Similar To, But Different, Than Writing
Infographic design draws upon multiple communication disciplines. As a whole, the genre presents us with various ways of presenting information with both structure and aesthetics in mind. Although there are many comparisons to be made (between writing and infographic design), here are a few (not so obvious) points worth considering:
- Design: Infographic design goes well beyond the formatting of information. Graphics, content flow, rhetoric, and tone all play a critical role in infographic design.
- Content Flow: When designing animated infographics it helps to think in terms of multi-directional content flow rather than narrative. Think map rather than story. Remember that your aim is to present information that can be grasped immediately despite the point at which your viewer starts reading, the sequence your viewer chooses to follow, or the information your viewer chooses to focus on.
- Closure: Unlike other forms of communication, infographics aim to describe—or instruct—in a quick and efficient manner. As a format it limits depth and breadth. Infographics provide little space for anything other than a “factual” utterance. Because of spatial limitations, infographics often assume the reader’s acceptance of factual accuracy (even if it links to other content for more detailed information). Accuracy of information is therefore critical as infographics have a tendency to “close” further discussion on topics within the confines of the infographic space.
The Main Point
Animated infographics are an effective and engaging tool for communication. As a relatively new variation of an older genre, it holds lots of potential for extended use and innovation. Animated infographics—when done well—can help you differentiate your brand, make your business communications much more engaging, and enhance the customer experience.