Principles of Infographic Design: Creating Hierarchy

The following is an excerpt from HOWU’s Principles of Infographic Design Principles taught by Julia Frenkle, who founded Opus, a design agency in Boston. Infographics continue to get more and more prominent in design, and successful and attractive visual communication is critical in today’s business world. It’s time to master this skill.

What is Infographic Hierarchy?

Everyone today is busy and overloaded. Therefore they probably don’t have time to figure out what your poster, ad or flyer is about. In order to grab the audience’s attention, you need to speak to them quickly and clearly. To do that you must promote the most important point of your piece, and make it the most prominent thing on the page. If your most important point pops, meaning it clearly stands out, the audience will see it right away. And if they’re intrigued by that main message, they’ll continue to read the rest of the information.

But if you don’t have that hero, and you don’t have hierarchy, you’ll lose your audience’s attention. If nothing stands out on the page, they won’t be able to figure out quickly enough what the piece is about and see why your idea is worthwhile.

infographic design

If we use the above image as an example, the pineapple clearly stands out as the hero among the little strawberries, and that’s what we want to achieve here. We know where we want the eye to go first: to the pineapple and then to the strawberries.

How to Create Hierarchy

The first thing you have to do is choose the hero. Chances are, you’ll have a lot to say in your infographic. As a result, it can be difficult to choose which item should be the most prominent on the page. But since it’s difficult for audiences to focus on more than one thing at a time, you must ask yourself: What is the most important piece of information? The answer to this question reveals what your hero should be.

Now it’s time to determine the path. Once you’ve chosen the most important information, it’s time to decide what comes next in order of importance, or what information you want the viewer to look at after the hero, and so on. This is how you will create a path that leads the viewer’s eye through your information.

Once you’ve determined the order using the steps above, it’s time to use your design tools to actually illustrate the hierarchy you’ve determined. This could mean using font size, font color, placement, design elements, etc to treat every element with the hierarchy you determined. An important design tip to keep in mind is to use contrast. A hero doesn’t stand out as a hero if you just bump up the font size. You really have to make the hero a lot larger or somehow treat it a lot more prominently because otherwise it won’t stand out as the hero.

infographic design

Poster created by Opus for MIT with an infographic that summarizes the school’s annual engagement data.

Testing for Hierarchy

Look at your piece/poster and squint. Everything will melt together. But if you squint at your piece and you can still see one piece of information that stands out, then you know you have a hero. If your eyes are wandering, then you probably don’t have a hero and you want to make some adjustments.

infographic design

The hero of Opus’s MIT poster.

infographic design

The key graphic, and second most noticeable item on the poster.

Now that you know how to create hierarchy, it’s time to master the remaining principles of infographic design: grouping, alignment, consistency, color and the ability to evaluate your design. To dive deeper into the subject, sign up for Julia Frenkle’s HOWU course today!

infographic design