How to create a handmade infographic

The craft of handmade infographics is an art form seldom used by news designers. Thus far.

Handmade infographics are primarily created with with materials from the real world, instead of mainly digital, like most infographics. Handmades can be extremely attractive. With smart pre-planning, they easily rise above the average. Consider these three elements, and success is guaranteed:

  • The context. If you write a story about education and draw a chart on a chalkboard, as a visualisation, then it’s in context. In similar fashion you could make a graffiti bar chart, if the story is about abandoned buildings.
  • The story. The visualisation should not only be a part of the full story, but ideally also tells the story on its own (see example 3.)
  • Aesthetic appeal. Needless to say, usually comes first with designers.

Example 1. Aesthetics, but no context or story

hand made visuals blur the line between art and data journalism

Designed by Jose Duarte (Columbia)

The handmade data visualisations by Jose Duarte are well-known among designers interested in visual storytelling. The visuals are compelling. In this picture the number of internet-users in the year 2000 and 2010 is visualised by balloon-like shapes. What does the surrounding – the context – add to that story? Nothing, actually. This would have been a fantastic visualisation, if the story was on deforestation, instead of on internet use.

Likewise News Knitter is more of an art project, than useful for storytelling (unless, the story is on fashion, or knitting for that matter). The News Knitter project shows infographics and news headlines on long sleeves. The story here is: news in a different context.
Ergo, it’s art.

Knitted data visualisation, Designed by News Knitter

Knitted infographics, designed by News Knitter

Example 2. Context, but no story

Hand made infographic on Vegetarianism, designed by Angelina

Vegetarianism in Numbers, designed by Angelina

This infographic, by Angelina Ignatova (her other work is very nice) is about vegetarianism, and shows… vegetables! Visualisation in context.
But let’s analyse the visualisation:
– The choice of veggies isn’t spot on (why are farm animals depicted as peppers, the ‘1.3 billion people that could be fed by grain and soybeans’ as tomatoes, and vegetarians either as seeds, plants or a potato disc?).
– The provided information is an arbitrary list of numbers on vegetarianism. That’s a bit thin for a story.
– The picture alone doesn’t immediately tell us that the main subject is vegetarianism. Without explanation this could be about cooking or home gardening.

Example 3. Aesthetics, context and story

Data visualisation in context, designed by Peter Ørntoft

Wearing a cross, data visualisation in context by Peter Ørntoft

Headscarf infographic, designed by Peter Peter Ørntoft

Wearing a headscarf, data visualisation in context by Peter Ørntoft

Much more useful for storytelling purposes, is the work of the Danish designer Peter Ørntoft. The subject of the infographic is whether the Danes think it is ethical to wear religious symbols in public professions. Each picture tells a different story on what the Danes think about a specific religious object (a cross, a headscarf, and a Yarmulka (not depicted here) ).

Ørntoft won the Information is Beautiful award for his visualisation in 2012.


Stijn Postema

Stijn Postema is a journalism lecturer and freelance reporter from the Netherlands. He has a background in journalism, arts and design.

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