If you’re like me, most infographics make you shrug after a quick zoom-in, and then you keep moving down your newsfeed. But from time to time you find a glorious infographic (a.k.a. the product of data visualization) that succinctly shares information. What are the secrets to these useful, graceful infographics?

While today’s infographics often form a complex narrative and include a series of stats, charts, and graphs, they still need certain core attributes, and both the most simple data visualizations and the components of a complex infographic can help us to see best practices. Great infographics offer your audience a compelling visual experience that’s as simple as possible — and is organized in a visual hierarchy.

Though few infographics hit the mark across the board, there’s a teachable point stashed in each example — whether the infographic includes a textual narrative or a bare bones map. Let’s set out to see what lessons these infographics illustrate for us. (And for the excerpted ones, be sure to view the whole infographic via the link provided!)

Eighteen Informative Infographics

1. Tornado Tracks

Tornado infographic

From Wired’s 13 of the Year’s Best Infographics, this map packs a visual punch and is full of information — including a bar graph of injuries and deaths. The shades of bright blue create a clear visual hierarchy. (See the interactive version here.)

2. World Maps of Intentional Homicides

Intentional homicides infographic

Another serious infographic with compelling design is this series of world maps, which you can animate and watch the simple color scale fluctuate within different countries. Its visual simplicity makes it easy to digest and learn from — especially if you keep your eye on a single country as the years progress.

3. The Geography of Europe’s Tweets

Europe's Tweets infographic

Instead of an infographic with multiple layers and text, this map of geolocated tweets since 2009 is explained by its caption, and the map can stand on its own as the epitome of simplicity in data visualization.

4. Paths Through Paris

Paris Geotags Infographic

Similar to the map listed before, these trip routes create a simple, digestible display of information. It’s self-explanatory; the thicker the lines, the heavier the traffic from the randomly chosen geotags on those paths.

5. US Online Retail Sales

Map from US Retail Sales infographic

Here we have an example of a more popular narrative of data for online infographics — particularly marketing ones. The initial map is striking and, throughout the infographic, the viewer is left to form their own conclusions from the data, which is key to a simple, compelling infographic that doesn’t rely on text. Plus, like all good infographics, the data is duly documented at the end.

6. The Global Water Crisis

Water Crisis infographic

In contrast to the map of intentional homicides, this map within the larger, well-designed infographic points out regional differences on the color gradient with circles rather than filling in each country. The circles allow for a quick, easily digestible glance at the map within a jam-packed infographic.

7. Moon Phases Explained (with Oreo cookies)

Moon phases infographic

While this narrative infographic has lots of text overall, it’s still grounded in compelling, creative visuals — particularly the spatial explanation of the moon’s phases relative to the Sun, shown as the excerpt above.

8. What if You Could See Inequality? (Part 2)

Income equality infographic

Above we see Nickolay Lamm’s visualization of income equality in areas of Miami. His original infographics of New York City’s income inequality clearly show the data by overlaying bar graphs on city photos, and this second installment gives an even broader bird’s-eye view of cities around the USA.

9. The 2010 Feltron Annual Report: The 90s

Feltron's 90s infographic

Nicholas Feltron’s statistical documentation of himself — and in this case, his father — show keen attention to detail and adroit communication of information. Focusing on the map of his father’s days spent in Europe, we clearly hone in on the hierarchy with color, location, and size to guide us.

10. The 2008 Feltron Annual Report: Music

Feltron's music infographic

One more nod to Feltron and his Annual Reports, this time pointing out this bar graph and pie chart within his infographic about his audio habits. The color scheme clearly directs your eyes, the design is pleasing and compelling, and the stats can be read quickly — or you can zoom in for more granular detail. (And you can track yourself too, with Feltron’s Daytum.)

11. Books of Cities

Books of Cities infographic

In a brief textual description, we get the gist of the data, and then we’re set loose to draw our own conclusions (which can be the best part), such as what world events in different decades contributed to focus on different countries. View the entire infographic via the link, and see the many years documented.

12. The Colors Mentioned Most in 10 Famous Books

Colors in Books infographic

This series of data visualizations by Jaz Parkinson succinctly shows both explicit color mentions and her color visualizations based on the book’s imagery (from words like “smoke”). The color palettes are compelling, visceral, and require minimal explanation.

13. Who Works and Who Doesn’t: The Labor Force by the Numbers

Labor Force stats infographic

When looking at the US Labor Force statistics, we immediately get a feel for the proportions not only in the color coding and people icons, but also in the defining line between those in and out of the labor force. To show the exact stats, there’s explicit text and percentages.

14. Preferred Colours in Kitchens

Kitchen color infographic

An easy-to-assimilate pie chart puts the information before you without extra frills. Even the background is a subtle grey and includes kitchen tools to orient you. This is one of a series of data visualizations that mined data from Pinterest.

15. Ten Years, Ten Artists

Artists infographic

To represent a decade of art history, Arthur Buxton lets proportions, color, and a simple y- and x-axis plot out an intriguing and compelling work of visual art.

16. Which Birth Dates Are Most Common?

Birthday infographic

Similar the Global Water Crisis and Intentional Homicides infographics, a simple scale of color intensity makes this visualization rather self-explanatory and obvious without much text.

17. Invisible Residents

New York Times infographic

With clever information design, this New York Times infographic maps out the Human Microbiome Project with charts and bar graphs. Although it features textual explanations, the smart data-handling of the circle, labels, and colors makes the extra text more helpful than harmful.

18. people movin

Migration infographic

This interactive infographic’s clean, compelling design helps us to explore all sorts of complex data in a novel way. The color draws your eye to what’s important, and the text and numbers are prioritized to make the infographic digestible — and a delight to use.

If You Give an Audience an Infographic…

While certain infographics approach the upper limit of ideal information design, we generally have to pick out the best points from the ones we like. It’s complicated to not only create an infographic that meets all the objectives of good design and pleases all the stakeholders in the project, but also captivates readers with short attention spans (and plenty of other places on the Internet to visit!).

I’m eager to find out what sort of infographics you like when you’re sifting through the onslaught of internet content. What principles of useful and aesthetically pleasing information design would you add to my list?