Making Infographics in Canva: a Guide and Review

Introduction

If you’ve ever had to design a poster for class, you’re probably familiar with Canva. This online and app-based graphic design tool, with free and subscription-based versions, features a large selection of templates and stock graphics that make it pretty easy to create decent-looking infographics. While it is far from perfect, the ease of use makes Canva worth trying out if you want to add a bit of color and fun to your data presentation.

Getting Started

Starting with a blank document can be intimidating, especially for someone without any graphic design experience. Luckily, Canva has a bunch of templates to help you get started.

Canva infographic templates

I recommend picking a template based on the color scheme and general aesthetic. It’s unlikely you’ll find a template that looks exactly how you want, so you can think of a template as a selection of colors, fonts, and graphics to use in your design, rather than something to just copy and paste things into. For example, see the image below – I recently used the template on the left to create the infographic on the right.

An infographic template compared to the resulting infographic

General Design Principles

Before you get started on your infographic, it’s important to remember some general design guidelines:

  1. Contrast. High levels of contrast between your background and foreground help keep everything legible.
  2. Simplicity. Too many different colors and fonts can be an eyesore. Stick to no more than two fonts at a time.
  3. Space. Leave whitespace to keep things from looking cluttered.
  4. Alignment and balance. People generally enjoy looking at things that are lined up neatly and don’t have too much visual weight on one side or another.
An exaggerated example of a design that ignores the above advice.

Adding Graphs and Graphics

Now that you have a template in hand and graphic design principles in mind, you can start actually creating your infographic. Under “Elements,” Canva includes several types of basic charts. Once you’ve added a chart to your graphic, you can edit the data associated with the chart directly in the provided spreadsheet, by uploading a csv file, or by linking to a google spreadsheet.

Canva interface for creating charts

The settings tab allows you to decide whether you want the chart to include a legend or labels. The options bar at the top allows for further customization of colors and bar or dot appearance. Finally, adding a few simple graphics from Canva’s library such as shapes and icons can make your infographic more interesting. 

Examples of charts available in Canva, with a variety of customizations.

Limitations and Frustrations

The main downsides to Canva are the number of features locked behind a paywall and the inability to see only the free options. Elements cannot be filtered by price and it seems that more and more graphics are being claimed by Canva Pro, so searching for graphics can be frustrating. Templates can be filtered, but it will still bring up results where the template itself is free, but there are paid elements within the template. So, you might choose a template based on a graphic that you really like, only to find out that you need a Canva Pro subscription to include that graphic.

The charts in Canva also have limitations. Pie charts do not allow for the selection of colors for each individual slice; you have to pick one color, and Canva will generate the rest. However, if you want to have more control over your charts, or wish to include more complicated data representations, you can upload charts to Canva, which even supports transparency.

Conclusion

As mentioned above, Canva has its downsides. However, Canva’s templates, graphics, and charts still make it a super useful tool for creating infographics that are visually appealing. Try it out the next time you need to present some data!

Review: The Infographic History of the World by Valentina D’Efilippo and James Ball

The Infographic History of the World, created by Valentina D’Efilippo and James Ball, consists of various infographics with accompanying commentaries. You can find this book and read it at Scholarly Commons, near our other infographic and visualization books! You can also check it out from a nearby library!

Overall, this book is a compelling read and an interesting idea as a project and some of the infographics were really well done. This book demonstrates the power of infographics to help us present and break down important topics to wider audiences. Yes, this isn’t supposed to be a serious read, but there was a lot I did not like about this book, specifically throughout I got a sense that:

Statue of a person with hands over face. Located by the Main Library entrance facing the UGL

Somewhere a political scientist is crying…     Photo credit to E. Hardesty and the Main Library with the original image found at https://flic.kr/p/rw2Ldz

  • “The story of the last 4,000 years is one of nations being founded, breaking apart, going to war, and coming together” (D’Efilippo & Ball, 2013). For those confused why this is a problem, “nation” is a very modern term and concept so that’s a serious anachronism.
  • Why is the theocracy symbol notably non-Western and not used for the English Civil War, which was apparently about republicanism?
  • A history of the “Net” that doesn’t mention Minitel.
  • First flight goes to the Wright Brothers. No mention of Santos-Dumont or the controversy (for everyone who noticed that inexplicable early aircraft cameo at this year’s Olympic opening).
  • The book is very Anglo-centric.

Sloppy stats!

 

  • I’m suspicious anytime Luxembourg wins something. Are they really the biggest drinkers or how does their small population make this data less meaningful?
  • “Absolute number of cannabis users by region” Absolute? Really?
  • Overall, not enough information on where and how a lot of the statistics were generated and why we should trust those sources. Yes, there is an appendix on the back that explains this to some extent in tiny text but not helpful for people who just glance at the infographic and assume it’s giving us useful information about the world.

Visualization issues!

 

  • Emphasizing form over function — much like the new Macbooks with so few ports they are practically landlocked — many of the infographics fail to present the information in a way that is appropriate for what they are trying to present. For example, the Mona Lisa paint by numbers probably would have been more effective as a timeline.
    • Maybe I’m just too attached to the idea of timelines being well on a line or perhaps maybe the spiral depicted on the book’s cover art.
    • Some of the infographics have way too many things going on and are trying to make too many points at once.
  • The colors on the mental illness brain are too close (and I can’t imagine how that would look to someone who is colorblind), and there are other examples where the colors are very close and render the infographic pretty, but hard to actually use to learn something from.

Finally, the authors’ claim of “not trying to be political” / “this is just for fun” is no excuse for not being thorough especially with information targeted to the public. Full disclosure or not, artists and journalists still need to be careful because what people see can influence the way they think about things. Infographics are not a neutral presentation of information, certain choices were made, and audiences need to think about who made these choices and why. Not as bad as some of the examples on this Visual Literacy and Infographics blog post, but still problematic. Please, do not be reckless when making infographics!

To learn more how to create infographics of your own check out our Savvy Researcher workshop: Introduction to Infographics Using Piktochart!

If you are an undergraduate interested in conducting research and becoming information and visual literate there is an entire set of classes in the history department for this through SourceLab. Take a look at their schedule or talk to Professor Randolph to learn more!

 

Book Review: Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling

A quick infographic I created for free using Piktochart. Learn about Piktochart in our Savvy Researcher workshops!

A quick infographic I created for free using Piktochart. Learn about Piktochart in our Savvy Researcher workshops!

Getting your content noticed int he Digital Age can be a difficult thing. Since the rise of social media, infographics have risen in popularity, becoming a popular way of sharing information. In their book Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling, Jason Lankow, Josh Ritchie, and Ross Crooks — cofounders of Column Five, a creative agency specializing in infographic design — outline how infographics became so popular, why they are an effective medium, and how to use them to express different types of information.

According to Column Five, effective communication consists of three aspects: appeal, comprehension, and retention. Infographics, when done well, have the potential to be a great method of communication, as visuals on the screen connect to information already stored in the human brain, allowing quick comprehension and better retention of what we’re seeing. The focus of Infographics is on how to utilize infographics for business or editorial purposes, but many of their conclusions about best practices will be useful to a researcher or digital humanist who wants to disseminate their data online.

The Column Five separate infographic design into two approaches: explorative and narrative. Narrative infographics tend to be illustrative and design focused and intended to inform or entertain. Explorative infographics — which are more likely to be useful to someone displaying research data — tend to be more minimalist. Their goal is to communicate information concisely using visuals that represent their data.

Several of the main takeaways of Infographics, however, are universal. First, that you need to have a specific audience in mind when creating an infographic. While you may want to shout, “I want everyone to see and love my data!” the fact of the matter is that your work will be more appreciated by certain people, and you should tailor your infographic to that audience. Second, that your infographic must have a specific purpose. Rather than throwing everything you have on your study into one infographic, take a smaller chunk of data and use it to communicate one particular message. Third, that a good infographic has beauty, soundness, and utility. No matter what the topic, if your infographic has those aspects, you’re set.

While the book is aimed towards businesses, many researchers — digital humanists, especially — can learn from the Column Five’s book when trying to communicate on the Internet. If you can create a quick infographic that follows best practices, it could make a huge difference about your audience and reach.

If you have questions about infographics, or you want to get started on making some yourself, the Scholarly Commons has the resources you need, including Adobe Photoshop CC and InDesign. You can also email Sarah Christensen (schrstn@illinois.edu) for any questions you may have about infographics, or digital images.