Infographic News You Can Use, Courtesy of The New York Times

Infographic News You Can Use, Courtesy of The New York Times

Nonprofits often feel challenged to simplify complex issues, and infographics can sometimes help. But there’s a lot of strategy that goes into developing a useful infographic. This infographic-based New York Times article is a model for us all.

There isn’t a whole lot more complicated these days than the report filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on coordination between the Russian government and the Trump 2016 presidential campaign. The Administration redacted one out every 10 words in the report, but spun those redactions to journalists as “light.” That left readers with a difficult choice: take the Administration at its word on an issue where it has a political interest; or read a dense 450 page legal document released in the middle of a workday.

The Times offered readers a great resource, by reading the report for us and summarizing where the redactions fell within the document. The addition of a spot-on infographic made that analysis even more useful.

New York Times infographic

That simple infographic uses tiny thumbnail images of the report’s pages to show the sections most heavily redacted by the Administration. But it makes that information useful to readers by using color-coded shading to identify the topics addressed by those sections of the report. We still don’t know what the Administration redacted, of course. But the Times’ infographic shows at-a-glance what topics they’re most concerned about.

So, what lessons can nonprofits take from this example? Here are three:

  1. Focus on data your audience can use. Without the topical shading, the thumbnails panorama would still have been useful, but it would have showed something more limited: how extensive the redactions really are. By adding the shading, The Times showed us something even more useful: what topics the Administration redacted most heavily. Think about what data will be useful to inform or persuade your audience, and design an infographic narrowly, to communicate that specific information.
  2. Design to communicate. There’s no flashy animation here, no iconic representations or elaborate drawings. Using thumbnails and a digital highlighter, The Times developed a design that clearly conveys the intended message: The Administration most heavily redacted the portions of the report focused on topics like Russian election interference and obstruction of justice.
  3. Bite-sized pieces make it accessible. It’s tempting to try to build an infographic that describes the whole issue at once. But that can be overwhelming for your audience, and it lets the viewer decide what the takeaways are. In this case, The Times focused on two simple but important points: 1) the redaction was significant, and 2) it mostly concerned topics of concern to the Administration), making the takeaways clear and accessible.

We’d love to hear what you look for in a compelling infographic. Share with us on Facebook or Twitter.