The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

4 Mistakes that Doom your Nonprofit's Information Design

Most nonprofits aren’t blessed with their own in-house design teams. Resources are tight, so when it’s time to create an infographic for a report or a chart for your website, the task often falls on someone who isn’t trained in design.4 Mistakes that Doom your Nonprofit's Information Design

If you’re that person, the task can be daunting. And the results aren’t always pretty.

As the co-founder of a design firm that works with nonprofits, I’ve seen a lot of do-it-yourself information design projects that could have been improved if they had only aimed to avoid making 1 or more of the 4 most common mistakes:

MISTAKE 1: INFORMATION OVERLOAD

When you’re tasked with designing an infographic or other data visualization, you should aim to organize your presentation around one main point — often something that is interesting or surprising.

You then build your piece around showing that key point and support that point with no more than 2 or 3 sidebars that provide context or related information.

Often, however, those who are charged with creating infographics try to present way too much information.

If you’ve ever tried to navigate a long, scrolling infographic online like this one, you can see what happens when the designer succumbs to information overload. In this treatment, there is simply too much information, and the information is not organized or presented in a way that helps the reader understand its key points.

When a piece has no central insight and/or tons of equally weighted sidebars, many readers will simply tune out.

Contrast that long, scrolling infographic with this one, which is organized around a central idea and is supported by 3 clear sections.

MISTAKE 2: SKEWED REPRESENTATIONS

We are so familiar with pie and bar charts, that we sometimes forget that these charts are supposed to be used to accurately and precisely represent information.

4 Mistakes that Doom your Nonprofit's Information DesignWhen we decorate or alter these graphs and charts, we can skew the presentation of the data they represent.

For example, when we create a pie or bar chart in 3D, it alters the data behind the graph. By introducing depth, we exaggerate the differences between values. A 3D bar chart, like the ones below, forces the viewer to compare volumes when the data is actually being measured by height.

Even a treatment such as the one to the left, which is more visually pleasing than a flat chart, distorts the information.

MISTAKE 3: INFORMATION STARVATION

While many infographics have far too much information, there are almost an equal number that convey almost no data but take up a lot of space.

Common Problems with Infographics

This often happens when the creators forget to ask themselves if they really needed an infographic in the first place.

When you create an infographic, if a chart – or even a sentence – would tell the story more effectively, you wind up with a lot of noise and almost no useful information.

By trying to be cute, this piece uses a lot of real estate to do what a few vertical lines or even a sentence would have done much better.

MISTAKE 4: INFORMATION COMES LAST

4 Mistakes that Doom your Nonprofit's Information DesignInfographics should be thoughtful in the presentation of data. While it’s understandable that people want to liven these pieces up to grab attention, flash shouldn’t come at the cost of making the information easily accessible.

This piece, for example, organizes the carbon footprints of various countries to make the shape of a foot. While the designers surely felt that was an important tie into to the idea of a footprint, the presentation makes it difficult for viewers to understand the data it is trying to convey.

Viewers would be able to make far more interesting observations of the data if it were organized in a number of other ways such as by physical geography, size, or growth rates.

The preceding post originally appeared on the Social Media for Nonprofits blog, click here to read. About the author: Matthew Scharpnick is the Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Elefint Designs, a strategic design studio that works with good causes. Combining strategy with design, Elefint helps nonprofits, NGOs and other social sector organizations tell compelling stories and achieve greater impact. Matthew specializes in branding, design strategy, storytelling, and data visualization.

Topics: Big Data