Beutler InfographicI love infographics. In my career, I’ve worked on hundreds of them, maybe thousands—from visualizing proprietary data from household brand names to helping cutting-edge start-ups get eyes on their shiny new brand.

Although no two infographics are alike—that’s the point, telling a unique story—each project starts the same way: with these five questions.

Question 1: What are your goals?

This is the single most important question, and it has to be the first conversation you have about the project. What are you trying to accomplish? What does a “win” look like? Every person on your team needs to be on the same page with this answer, or your project isn’t going to work.

But once everyone is on the same page, a lot of other decisions are made for you.

For instance, let’s say your main goal is media pick-up. You know your content needs to appeal to journalists. It needs a strong thesis that can make an attention-grabbing headline, and it needs to keep mentions of your own brand to an absolute minimum (unless you’re already a household name like Google). That second part is tough for many brands; it seems counterintuitive to put so much work into a piece of content and not put your own brand front and center. But if the goal is media placement, reducing focus on your own brand is critical to success because reporters don’t want to run promotional content—unless you paid for it.

On the other hand, let’s say your goal is to report the ROI of your team’s efforts to your colleagues or board. This content should look and feel very different from the brand-agnostic content you’d pitch to media. It should be all about your brand.

Or, maybe your goal is to increase engagement on your Facebook page. If that’s the case, you don’t want an infographic at all! Traditional infographics are too long to fit in Facebook’s news feed and too detailed to survive Facebook’s image compression. Instead, you should create a social graphic—a “snackable,” easy-to-digest graphic that’s optimized for Facebook, with the right dimensions and limited information, to be understood at a glance.

Your answer influences:

  • What content to include
  • What call(s) to action to include
  • Where this graphic will “live”

Question 2: Who is your audience?

This question goes hand-in-hand with Question 1. And like Question 1, it also helps to make a lot of other decisions for you. For starters, by knowing your audience, you can determine where your finished product should live: Online or off? On social or not? On mobile or not?

If your target audience is Facebook fans, then you know your content will live on Facebook, but should it be mobile-friendly, too? More and more, research is showing us that if your content is going on social, it needs to be optimized for mobile because so many people are surfing the web from their smartphones. For this reason, it’s smart to make all social graphics square (think Instagram).

If you’re appealing to journalists, however, you aren’t bound by the limitations of Facebook. Instead, you have to think about making your content work on their platforms: likely a blog, which means a new set of restrictions. Because horizontal scrolling isn’t very user-friendly and many blogs don’t allow for it, it’s best to keep your graphic vertical, and no wider than 900 pixels—the max width that many blogging platforms allow.

And, if you’re talking among internal stakeholders about your own processes, then the world of off-line communication opens up. You can consider posters, presentations, and handouts, in addition to online options like email or SlideShare.

Your answer influences:

  • Where will the graphic “live”
  • What dimensions the graphic should be

Question 3: What data are you presenting?

There’s a lot of talk about which comes first: the data or the story. Like the chicken or the egg, there is no right answer. Sometimes, you’ll have a great set of numbers you know you want to visualize. Other times, you’ll have a thesis that requires you to track down data from several sources to knit your narrative together. You can make a great infographic out of either approach.

In either case, the data you use will profoundly influence the kind of visualization you choose. Spreadsheets full of numbers make stunning bar graphs, area charts, line graphs, pie charts and scatter plots. But numbers aren’t the only way to make an infographic. Timelines, flow charts, Venn diagrams and process diagrams make great content, too.

Your answer influences:

  • What kind of visualization to use

Question 4: What is your deadline?

Don’t let your infographic suffer a slow, painful death by lack of deadline. Set a deadline early in the project, and stick to it.

In many cases, the deadline will be obvious. You’ll want to tie your infographic launch to some other event: a product release, company event or even a holiday. But even if you’re not piggybacking your launch on anything else, it’s important to set a deadline to ensure you continue to make progress on the project, and it doesn’t die along the way.

Your answer influences:

  • How soon to get started
  • How long you have for each phase of the process

Question 5: What is your budget?

As much as infographics are works of art, they’re still controlled by financial motives, and that includes determining your budget. Sometimes, you might only have a small budget, which will limit your options for what kind of infographic you want to do. In other cases, you might have such a cool project queued up that you can secure a bigger budget to make it happen.

Regardless of how big or small the project, all infographics stand on the same legs: skills that range from research and strategy to information architecture and design. You can cut back your budget only so far before one of those legs becomes too weak to support the graphic as a whole.

Your answer influences:

  • What level of complexity to pursue
  • How many team members can be involved
  • Whether you can afford to bring in outside talent

Approach every infographic project with these questions at the forefront, and you’re more likely to hit your goals, while staying on time and on budget.

Jenny Karn is the Vice President of Content at Beutler Ink.