How to Make Infographics in InDesign
By Elizabeth Mott
Infographics transcend graphs, charts and other statistical representations to show trends, insights and correlations in visual displays that combine information with the highest standards of design. Many of these graphics take advantage of Web pages' ability to scroll as far as necessary to present material that occupies heights far beyond the limits of hard copy. Leverage the layout power of Adobe InDesign to build these popular "explainers" using precise tools and styles.
Special Document Setup Considerations
Some infographics fit within conventional page sizes for reproduction in printed presentations. Others occupy long stretches of website page space, using vertical depth to signal the chronology of a data story or to present a long set of critical facts. When you set up an Adobe InDesign document for use in creating infographics, aim for the page dimensions of your final project, especially for print use. If you're building an online graphic and realize that you need additional page space, open the "File" menu, choose "Document Setup" and increase the height or width of your page. Use simple calculations to create or modify page sizes quickly. The asterisk serves as a multiplication symbol, so typing "2" after an existing page width doubles the dimension, and typing "12in2" creates a 24-inch-tall document.
Design cohesion starts with unified stylistic resources that underlie every aspect of a project. To assure that an infographic creates a clean, uncluttered impression, build Adobe InDesign styles for the most important sets of visual resources in your project. Add colors to the Swatches panel, selecting from prefabricated color systems -- including PANTONE spot and process shades for printed projects -- or formulating your own shades. Create Paragraph styles for headlines, callouts, subheads and other typographic elements. Use Character styles to substitute colors or switch a Paragraph style to italics or small caps for a few emphasized words. Set up object styles to speed the creation of graphics you draw with InDesign's built-in tools, including elliptical or rectangular shapes.
Infographics often rely on tightly structured layouts set up in gridded rows and columns. You can set up the basics of a grid when you create your file, or build a grid using horizontal and vertical ruler guides. In the New Document dialog box, set up columns to divide the width of your page. Use the column gutter setting to leave a margin between column widths, or set the measurement to zero to create contiguous columns. Unlocked column guides reposition when you drag them. When you unlock Adobe InDesign's ruler guides, you can select them like any other document objects, enter measurements in the Transform or Control panel, and position the guides at specific points along the width or height of your document page. Combine columns and ruler guides to build a full page grid. InDesign's table features also can double as a grid system for infographic design. Add background colors to individual cells, apply strokes to specific cell borders, and merge cells together to create the look of mixed column widths.
Unlike Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign lacks a built-in graphing tool that can turn data into pie, bar and line chart formats, among other visualizations. Instead, InDesign accommodates graphics from other applications in popular interchange formats -- bitmapped TIFF and JPEG, vector EPS, PDF -- as well as the native layered formats of other applications in the Adobe Creative Suite or Creative Cloud, including Illustrator and Photoshop files as well as other InDesign documents. You can bring in Microsoft Excel worksheets complete with column setups and widths, row heights, merged cells and styled content. To create a clear, concise graphical presentation of your data points, avoid visual clutter and extraneous graphics. Rather than recreate or import an infographic the way it appears in a presentation, rethink the points it conveys and rebuild it as a fresh interpretation. When you choose your graphics, remember that bitmaps soften when you scale them down and pixelate when you enlarge them beyond actual size, whereas vector artwork scales up or down with virtually infinite clarity.
Information in this article applies to Adobe InDesign CC and Adobe InDesign CS6. It may differ slightly or significantly with other versions or products.
Elizabeth Mott has been a writer since 1983. Mott has extensive experience writing advertising copy for everything from kitchen appliances and financial services to education and tourism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from Indiana State University.