How researcher Julie De Smedt made her infographic

I was recently asked to take a look at Julie De Smedt’s infographic about her research. Julie is a researcher with Steunpunt Media, and this was her first infographic.

Of course I did, and I’d be happy to share my thoughts with you. I won’t go into too much detail, because I’d rather have Julie herself explain how she went about creating the infographic. She has tons of advice for researchers out there embarking on the same mission.

But before I give the floor to Julie, real quick: Julie has managed to distill her (and her team’s) research to its essence in an interesting package. She decided to represent each cell in her infographic as one percentage. This visual representation guides the viewer through the infographic, and entices you to keep looking forward to the other comparisons. The viewer is locked in because of this, and it is hard not to look through the entire infographic.

Viewers who are interested in learning more are enouraged to do so by means of the sources she mentions at the end of the presentation (which you should always do with infographics). She provides just enough relevant information, which is great.

The infographic talks about the news coverage of traffic accidents.

Let’s take a look first, before we talk to Julie

Julie, was it difficult to select what would be shown and what would be excluded?
“I decided to only show one aspect of my research. This forced me to leave out a lot of material, which is necessary. The point of an infographic is to convey one story rather than to display the entire contents of your paper. Some colleagues had a hard time accepting the fact that so much nuance was left out, but I had to make a choice between the concise character of an infographic, or the more in-depth treatment you would see in a paper. Sometimes you just have to choose.”

Why did you make the infographic?
“I wanted more exposure for our research. I wanted to find a fun way to bring our work out into the spotlights for a broader audience. Something that could be included in our PR efforts and newsletter. Besides that, there was a personal dimension: I needed a creative challenge for myself.”

Did you get much feedback? Was it mainly positive?
“The infographic was met with plenty of positive feedback on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Professional publications like De Journalist also featured it, and the infographic was distributed during the Flemish Congress for Traffic. People appreciated that we did “thing like these”. I am quite pleased with the positive feedback. I didn’t get any negative reactions.”

How did you make the infographic?

“First off, I wrote down all of our findings on a piece of paper. I then started to scratch out a bunch of things until I knew exactly what I wanted to convey. It wasn’t until then that I grabbed my computer and started to elaborate on that idea. I’m pretty creative, and I’m well-versed in Adobe Illustrator, which helped me a lot, of course.”

“I created all the icons and illustrations myself, and made it into a collage in Adobe Illustrator myself. This wasn’t always straightforward. How do you, for instance, illustrate “fatal traffic victim”? Google proved to be very a helpful resource here.” (Comment by Toon: it is not necessary to be an Adobe Illustrator expert. There are other tools around. )

How long did it take you?
“Altogether, it took me about 15 hours. That may sound like a lot, but I like the creative work, and we received a lot of attention in return. Plus, I decided to do all the illustrations myself, which obviously takes a lot of time. It’s far from easy to make an infographic, but with the right motivation and enthusiasm it can certainly be done. And of course, it’s not for everyone. If conveying your message to the outside world is not a high priority for you, you probably should put your effort elsewhere.”

Do you have any advice for people who want to create their own infographics?

  • Connect with people around you who have done similar things. They’ll be able to help you and point you in the right direction. (Comment by Toon: an example would be to read materials on Or contact us directly at
  • Don’t start off too ambitiously. I started with one concept that I elaborated on as I went. This allows you to think through the entire concept on a small scale first. This also allows you to adjust your approach afterwards.
  • Ask others what is the most important aspect of your research, and start from there. Sometimes it is hard to see what the most important aspects of your own research are.

Closing thoughts: this was Julie De Smedt’s first infographic, and it was a big success. Don’t be discouraged by thoughts like “I’m not a designer” or “I don’t know how to draw”. Every researcher can make an infographic.

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