Functional design for diagrams and infographics

Keep it simple and intuitive

Diagrams such as flowcharts can be very helpful in showing the relationship between different issues, organisations, ideas or processes. They are often used as decision-making tools. However, if you try to include too many elements or steps, the diagram will become cluttered and hard to read, and lose its purpose.

Keep the relationships between elements of the diagram simple and intuitive. The meaning of arrows between elements or steps should be clear.

Infographics can become ineffective and distracting if they are overloaded with graphical elements. There are many examples of infographics that display data inaccurately and incoherently.

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Use good design principles

Use principles about visual communication and the best display of information to design a visual concept aligned to the story of your diagram or infographic. Design principles include:

  • Balance – is the weight distributed in the design by the placement of your elements. For example, a large shape close to the centre of a design can be balanced by a small shape close to the edge. Balance provides stability and structure to a design.
  • Proximity – means grouping elements together so that you guide the viewer to different parts of the message. It provides a focal point and creates a relationship between elements.
  • Alignment – is the act of keeping design objects in line – not only vertically or horizontally, but across any linear plane. It creates order and organisation. Aligning elements allows them to create a visual connection with each other.
  • Repetition – strengthens a design by tying together individual elements. It creates visual consistency in page designs. It helps to create association and can also create rhythm (a feeling of organised movement).
  • Contrast – is the juxtaposition of opposing elements. Ways of creating contrast include using contrasting colours, sizes, shapes, locations or relationships (opposite colours on the colour wheel, light/dark or direction – horizontal/vertical). Contrast allows the key elements in your design to be emphasised or highlighted.
  • Space – is the distance or area between, around, above, below or within elements. Both positive and negative space are important factors to be considered in design.
  • Visual metaphor – abstract concepts can be hard to communicate. Using metaphors and analogies gives ideas for visuals to provide understanding, and also potential structures of the information. For example, a tree can show information hierarchies, and a road map can visualise a process.
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Use a professional designer

For an illustration diagram to be most effective for publication, it should be drawn and designed by a trained graphic designer or illustrator. Drawings using clip art and stock can look unprofessional, and may detract from the meaning rather than help to convey it.

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Include a key, if needed

If necessary, provide a key to relevant parts of the diagram. This should be in the same style as table and figure notes, and positioned under the drawing (but before the figure title if the title is placed below the figure), as described for graphs. Text can also be used on the diagram to provide additional information.

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Ensure consistency

Copyedit and proofread diagrams as you would the rest of the text. Make sure that all text in the diagram complies with the editorial style of the rest of the publication.

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