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Using data to fuel content is one of the hottest trends in marketing. Customer intelligence data and third-party data can provide the raw materials you need to create infographics, Slideshare presentations and tweetable charts for content marketing.

To get maximum reach for your data-driven content, you often need to work with designers. A great designer who is skilled at working with data can be the difference between success and failure when it comes to producing attractive infographics.

But you're just wasting that designer's time and talent if you hand them a pile of data and ask them to make sense of it. To get the most out of your designer, you need to do your homework and make their job as easy as possible.

Here's what I learned so far about working with graphic designers - all gleaned from various data-driven content projects that I've done in the past.

  1. Share only relevant, tidy data.

Concise data visualizations often start with data projects that are anything but concise. Perhaps you begin with an Excel sheet with raw data from your insight community. Or perhaps you're starting off with a compilation of data you've collected from third-party sources.

While you may find working with a huge amount of data exhilarating, your graphic designer will not. In fact, large amounts of data will kill your designer - or run up your bill.

Don't get your designer bogged down in parsing the data. Doing so hinders her from what you're actually paying them to do: using their creativity to help you tell your story.

Determine the data that will support your story, and give only that to your designer in a tidy Excel spreadsheet. I also recommend producing initial versions of these charts so they can visually see the data. By giving your designer only the data she needs, you're saving her the hassle of looking for what's relevant.

tweet-this_0When working with a designer for content marketing, give her only the data she needs. (CLICK TO TWEET)

  1. Tell your designer which graphics are most important.

Even when you're producing a report that includes a lot of different infographics, some will be more important than others. So focus your designer's energy and creativity on the two or three graphics that are most essential to the larger story you're trying to tell. For instance, some key charts offer provocative insight about your topic, or they provide the timely hook you need to approach bloggers and journalists.

You can get away with more a basic piechart or bar graph when you're illustrating a less important finding or supporting point. But when you're trying to focus your readers' attention on a key finding - or hoping that a specific insight will get picked up in the media—a creative visual approach will maximize your infographic's impact.

Since these graphics require special attention, ask your designer to allocate more time working on them. Make sure your designer understands the central message you are trying to convey with your content, so he can come up with creative and unique ways of presenting the data that is most essential to your message.

  1. Clarify the key point you want each chart to make.

As research and customer intelligence professionals, you may look at a chart and think that the insight from it is obvious. Don't assume that your designer will see it the same way.

When you send your cleaned up data and chart drafts, take the time to quickly explain what each chart needs to communicate. Highlight or boldface key data points, and highlight what needs to be dramatized. Clarifying the story for each chart in the beginning will help you avoid wasting your designer's time.

  1. Tell them which media to optimize for.

We've been lucky that some of our data-driven content marketing projects have been featured on high-profile online publications, print magazines and even TV. If you have really interesting data with a timely hook, you may find yourself in the same situation.

It's important to give your designer medium-specific guidelines. Printed materials require higher resolutions, while you can typically get away with a lower resolution for websites and blogs. On the other hand, anything for TV requires minimal copy and easy-to-understand graphics. Work with the media outlet and lean on your designer's expertise to make sure your graphics effectively communicate your message.

  1. Give your designer detailed constructive feedback.

Regardless of your designer's level of talent and experience, it's very unlikely that he'll have the perfect charts for you in her first try. Expect to work with your designer to iterate on your charts.

When providing feedback, be honest and specific - but not too specific. Break your feedback down into overall suggestions for visual identity or tone, and comments on individual graphics or design choices. Make sure you tell your designer what is working as well as what isn't - otherwise, the revision process may move you backward instead of forward. Instead of saying you don't like something, identify the places you feel your message or finding is getting lost, or where the tone and visual language diverge from your message or branding. Use the same kind of feedback to push your designer further on graphics that are just okay, but need to be great.

tweet-this_0When providing feedback to your graphic designer, be honest and specific - but not too specific. (CLICK TO TWEET)

But resist the temptation to whip up your own new-and-improved version: designers hate that. Instead, talk about the problems you are trying to solve, and the approaches you'd like your designer to try. "This chart feels too playful; could you try a different color or font is going to get much better results than "please replace that bright blue with navy. Focusing on specific problems or outcomes, rather than providing directives, makes it more likely that you'll come up with a good visual solution to that problem—because your designer is more skilled at visual problem-solving than you are.

Graphic designers are important members of your marketing team, since the infographics you release will typically be the most closely scrutinized elements in your reports, blog posts or social media updates. Working closely with them and being cognizant of what they need from you will maximize their time and help you get more ROI from data-driven content marketing.

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