Why all public health professionals should know how to design an infographic, with Sujani Siva

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Show Notes

After writing the Opinion piece on the PH SPOT blog, The rise of infographics, and why I believe all public health professionals should know how to design one, Sujani wanted to get behind the mic to explain why she believes this. In this solo episode, Sujani tells you what infographics are, how infographics have been used in public health, and why public health professionals need to have excellent communication skills, including visual communication. She also encourages listeners to take the first step by joining PH SPOT’s 6-day Infographic Planning Challenge so that they too can begin to build the confidence and skills to design public health infographics.


You’ll Learn

  • What is an infographic, including the definition of an infographic
  • You’ll be introduced to words such as “data visualization”, “information design”, and “information architecture”, and what they mean
  • Who is using infographics in public health (in the past and present)
  • Sujani’s favourite use of infographics in present-day: universities including infographic design as part of student assignments! By integrating infographic design within the curriculum of public health courses, students leave the course with infographic design skills that will be welcomed and sought out for in the workforce.
  • Why infographic projects that share public health information or data are best led by public health professionals – and how the communication and/or marketing teams can get involved
  • And she shares her bottom line, which is: We have a responsibility to ensure that public health information is displayed and communicated accurately. If we can’t get rid of the bad information out there, we should saturate it with good information.

Today’s Guest

Sujani Sivanantharajah

After guiding a number of public health students and new grads since 2013, Sujani created PH SPOT to reach, inspire and support public health professionals. Sujani enjoys seeing people around her grow and become the best version of themselves! She is obsessed with elevating the people behind public health.


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Episode Transcript

Sujani 0:00
Hey, what’s up everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of a PH SPOTlight, a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career.

Sujani 0:21
So you may have seen that earlier this summer, we introduced a new category on our blog to welcome opinion pieces on the PH SPOT blog from the community. And earlier this month, I sat down and wrote one myself, and it was titled, “The Rise of Infographics and why I believe all public health professionals should know how to design one”. I think I got my point across pretty well there on the blog, but I wanted to do this episode today to explain my opinion a bit more so that you can hear why believe this from me and to my voice rather than reading a piece on it. So I start this opinion piece by telling readers a bit about infographics in public health. For those of you who are listening and have not heard of infographics or if you’ve heard it and still not sure what exactly they are, I’ll start right at the top. So, infographics are the visualization of data or ideas, and the process of developing and publishing infographics is called data visualization, or information design or information architecture. And it’s the detailed planning of specific information that’s to be provided to a particular audience to meet a specific objective. And the goal of information design is to help humans process information as efficiently as possible. So infographic design requires the use of a number of concepts, including psychology, data science and graphic design. But in my opinion, it’s not to say that only the specialists in these areas can design them. Through infographics, what you’re trying to do is convey complex information to an audience in a manner that can be quickly consumed and easily understood. So if we take public health information or data, who better to lead the design of an infographic that a public health professional, right? So the rise in the popularity of using infographics in public health is quite evidence and noticeable, you would have seen numerous public health related infographics popping up on social media and various web sites. And this is a good thing in my opinion, because it means that we’re being cognizant about how our audience consumes information. And we want them to consume this information. And if you didn’t already know, the act of summarizing key information in a visual format is not a new concept for public health. We’ve seen this go far as back as a 19th century in Florence Nightingale’s work, where she drew that diagram of the causes of mortality in the army in the east, and that was in 1858. And then take John Snows’ Broad Street cholera outbreak, where he showed a map with dots for cases that again, is an example of visualizing public health information. And then more recently, public health organizations, academic journals, universities, they’re all investing in infographics for public health communication. And if you take a look at the opinion piece that I wrote, there are links there to explore all of these there and I’ll be sure to include the article in the show notes page of this episode.

Sujani 3:48
And my favorite option of infographic design has to be within academia, where it’s being taught as part of certain curriculums. By doing this, universities acknowledging that contemporary higher education requires this integration of new tools to facilitate teaching and learning. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited for two years now as a guest speaker for an Advanced Physical Activity and Health course at Queen’s University here in Canada. And my invitation came through the Kinesiology and Health Studies faculty and my talk provided students with an introduction to infographics and infographic design before they embarked on an assignment to create an infographic related to topics that they were researching on for a term assignment. And these were things like the relationship between physical activity and breast cancer or cardiovascular disease or type two diabetes. And so I was pleasantly surprised and happy that Dr. Robert Ross, who is the professor of this course, his curriculum integrates this hands-on skill that students could really leverage when they’re out there working as public health practitioners and contributing to this world. So infographics can be a powerful tool to communicate research findings, to educate populations that we work with, or share information with stakeholders or decision makers in a very concise and effective manner. And in recent years, like I said, public health has seen increasing interest and popularity for displaying information using infographics. But here’s a caveat to all of this great stuff, it’s that infographics have not yet been validated in a public health context for decision making, or influencing behavior change. However, regardless of this, it’s certainly showing to be a promising communication tool. Let’s take for example, the COVID-19 pandemic that we’re currently in, how many infographics have you seen on various topics around COVID-19? And how many of these were shared via social media by your peers or family members? And then take the technical reports that have been published by public health professional, have those been shared a lot more or a lot less than infographics? So anecdotally, we’ve seen that during this pandemic, communicating at such a large scale to populations with various backgrounds, has required multiple forms of media and visuals have been extremely helpful, like infographics. And then aside from communicating about a novel virus, other applications for infographics in public health have included patient package inserts for prescription drugs, and language tailored Zika virus communication in Kashmir, India, these were very cool examples that I came across when I was doing some research and these links are also in that opinion piece that I wrote, so be sure to check that out.

Sujani 6:48
So what’s my point? Basically, it’s this public health professionals should have excellent communication skills, including infographic design, and no, they are not going to replace graphic designers or illustrators. I think that communication comes in various forms, right, such as written, oral, and visual. The visual component is one that’s not a popular area of training for us in public health, but it’s one that I strongly believe should be, and especially infographic design, if anything, and here’s why:

Sujani 7:21
Having the knowledge and skill to take public health information, and then convert it into an infographic requires content expertise, and a deep understanding of the population that is being served or targeted. So this unique skill should be given importance because firing up a software application like Adobe Creative suites, and putting down great pictures and choosing a nice color palette is only one part of infographic design. And the truth is with the availability of amazing web based applications we have right now, public health professionals don’t need to be excellent graphic designers. However, they should know how to take complicated information, boil it down to an audience or population of interest, and present it in a format that’s easily consumable. The skills can be taught, and we’re in an era where the tools are just so accessible by everyone. And so if you’re thinking, you know, my large organization has a marketing or communication team that can help with the execution of an infographic, that’s just a bonus, they can be included towards the end of the process. A public health expert like you will always need to lead an infographic design project, because you are the expert who will need to develop the objective, identify and understand the audience, you’re going to have to develop the story and write out the copy including what that call to action is for viewers of your infographic. And then you also need to figure out the look and feel of the product, the graphic designer, or your communication department, or marketing department, they will simply execute on your plan. So again, coming back to my point, the bottom line is this. There’s a lot of misinformation around health out there in the world. Websites, articles, and visuals communicate the wrong information to people we care deeply about. And most of these products are probably created by non-public health professionals. And they’re so popular because they’re visually appealing and people can just pick it up and easily consume it. On the other hand, we have public health professionals like us doing some really excellent work, but at times, our work doesn’t see the day of light. And so my point is this, by equipping public health professionals with communication skills such as how to design and develop great infographics, we will be better equipped to effectively share good public health information with the world. And so I truly believe that we have a responsibility to ensure that public health information or data is displayed and communicated accurately, because I feel that if we can get rid of the bad information out there, we should at least saturate it with good information. Would you agree? If you said yes, at any point throughout this episode, I want you to take the first step. So if you’ve never developed an infographic, I’m going to help you because I know that the first step can be overwhelming and daunting, especially if you don’t know exactly what that first step is. So what I had done was I developed a six-day infographic planning challenge, and we’re currently running it so if you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at developing public health infographics, but just didn’t know whether you even had anything worth developing, you need to join this challenge because at the end of the six days, you will not only have selected a product to work on, but you will essentially have completed the planning phase for your first infographic. I decided to create this challenge because I know infographics are an excellent way to communicate public health findings like I had just explained. And I’ve used infographics in my work, and I’ve helped my peers do the same. However, one of the biggest barriers I’ve seen in even exploring the use of infographics to disseminate good work is not knowing how to choose a piece of work to focus on. Some people don’t even know whether they have something worth investing time into. The simple answer is yes, you have something, I am 100% confident that there’s something you’ve worked on that can be better articulated and presented using an infographic. So this challenge does exactly that. It helps you identify and narrow down that one thing to begin your infographic journey. So if you head over to pHspot.ca/infographics, you’ll find more information and you can join the challenge. Public health professionals should be equipped with high quality communication skills, including visual communication, such as infographic design, and there’s no better individual on the team to lead an infographic design project, than the public health content expert and not the graphic designer. They’re there to execute the project. So if I’ve convinced you at all in these past 12 minutes or so, head over to pHspot.ca/infographics. Give the six-day challenge a try, and then take it from there. And I also want to hear from you. Do you agree with the statement that public health professionals should be equipped with the skills to design infographics? Or would you disagree and say that this isn’t a skill that public health professionals need or should even spend time developing because that’s what the marketing team or the communication team is there for? I’d love to hear your perspective on it. So do shoot me an email at hello@pH spot.ca. And we can chat more about it. And until next time. Thank you so much for tuning in to the PH SPOTlight podcast and for the invaluable work that you do for this world. And if you head over to pHspot.ca/podcast, all of the links from today’s episode will be there for you.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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