5 Things We Learnt Creating Animated Infographics For The BBC

Hyperfine Media recently completed a series of 23 animated infographics for the BBC’s digital educational brand iWonder. Like all successful infographics, these animations had to communicate big ideas and fascinating facts and figures in a visually inventive way. During the production process we spent a lot of time trying different approaches to the research, storyboarding, scripting and animation. Based on this here’s our 5 top tips for anyone creating animated infographics for their own brand or company:

1) Make sure your topic has a powerful ‘hook’
Pretty much any topic or theme you can think of could be turned into an infographic – but it takes more than facts and figures to engage the audience. You need to find a ‘hook’ that keeps the viewer watching to the end. One useful starting point was to frame every topic as a question – some of those we produced for the BBC included ‘Am I at risk from cybercrime?’, ‘Do I eat too much meat?’ and ‘How long will I live for?’ Each question directly affects the viewer and serves to pique their curiosity.

2) Try to follow a coherent narrative.

Our most successful animated infographics were those that followed a single narrative thread, without jumping about too much from point to point. One example here is ‘Could I live on another planet?’. This started with a description of how many Earth-like planets exist in the solar system, then walked through the conditions required for one of these to support human life, and finally identified the most likely candidate and how long it would take to travel there. We weren’t looking to provide definitive answers to any of the topics within 60 seconds, but to provide an introduction to the key questions and point the way towards the answers.

3) Get the level of detail right
A lot of the research we undertook was less about finding data and more about summarising this into a digestible form. The internet has made masses of detail available to even the casual browser. Creating an infographic on energy consumption? Then you can download comprehensive spreadsheets from the Department of Energy’s website breaking down energy usage into every conceivable category over two decades. The challenge is sifting through this to find the thought-provoking facts and figures that will form the backbone of your infographic. The danger is trying to include too much data in an attempt to be thorough, but at the risk of losing sight of what made it interesting in the first place. Keep focused on your central narrative thread and only use the minimum amount of data needed to support this.

4) Let the visuals complement the data
Successful infographics don’t just rely on interesting ideas – at least as important is finding a way of presenting these in a visually interesting way. It’s worth looking at some of the blogs and websites out there that share examples of best practise data visualisation – as well as some examples that don’t work so well. But bear in mind these are usually focussed on static infographics. Animation has its own advantages and disadvantages. Animation tends to flow from one idea to the next; static or interactive infographics can be more data rich because the viewer can explore them at their leisure. Here’s a few short clips of different ways we presented the data:

5) Keep the visuals simple
If we found the data could sometimes obscure the message, the same could be true for the visuals. For example, we wanted to show how average life expectancy varied from country to country around the world and initially showed a list of 10 countries ranging from the lowest to the highest on a map of the world. This might work fine as a static infographic, but in an animation the viewer only has a few seconds to take in this info. In our case we found the map to be too confusing and difficult to know where you’re looking. So we limited the information to the highest and lowest life expectancies in the world, with the UK for comparison. That also gives you more space to communicate the data visually – in this case we included groups of birthday candles to show the relative ages.

Hopefully that’s given you a few pointers for creating your own infographics – or speak to us to see what we’d suggest for your company or brand.