Infographic Strategy: Illustrating a Hero vs Villain Story


Advertising has engrained the "Hero vs Villain" story structure into our culture. So, how can you use this narrative to benefit your infographic efforts?

The history of the hero battling a villain goes all the way back to the earliest days of storytelling. In cave drawings, an innocent person is either battling a beast, a human/animal hybrid or a horned-creature. This narrative of a hero versus a villain continued on through the many religions and continues to be used by advertising agencies, producers and other storytelling professionals.

These earliest cave paintings would mean nothing to us, unless someone labeled these drawings with polarizing identities. If you had absent knowledge of the hero versus villain concept, you might see the illustrated primitive art in a different perspective since you weren't previously preprogramed to emotionally identify the artwork as positive or negative.

So who created these identities? Ancient people who fundamentally were the first advertisers, realized they simply needed to create a black and white contrasting story to control, paralyze or suppress the uneducated readers. At some point in early human history, people didn't have a label to identity a hero or villain. The creators of this ideology saw the opportunity to manipulate and write a narrative that will indoctrinate people on who is the hero and who is the villain. This framework was repeated continuously by institutions and advertising making it seem normal and accurate.

Advertising manipulates and persuades via repetition.

Advertising has successfully defined for most what is "good" and what is "evil." As with any other successful advertising copywriting or angle, all you have to do is repeat your story consistently and slowly refine as you see data that supports the need for a small change. This is why it's crucial to define your companies message, and simply repeat it continuously until it sticks with your audience.

A personal favorite quote on using repetition to manipulate is from the movie Natural Born Killers, where the deceitful reporter Wayne Gale (played by Robert Downey Jr.) says to his editor in the production room:

Repetition works, David. Repetition works, David.

Repeating the hero vs villain story structure works because it's simple and unrealistically illustrates a complex narrative into basic black and white – which has the benefit of making any muddy topic appear crystal clear and easy to consume with no need for critically thinking. It's basically fast-food for the brain and clickbait.

The Hero and Villain Identities Have Their Own Graphic Guidelines

You've seen old war posters either online, in art galleries or in a touristy town. Propaganda illustrated to show Uncle Sam or solider protagonist as a powerful hero, battling whoever the weaker foe was at that time. This struggle for who is more powerful fluctuates as the narratives evolves, but commonly whoever is supposed to be the hero, is illustrated to be stronger.

In the artwork, the hero is typically a normal looking person. Clean shaved, with a pretty face, enlarged pupils, strong physique, neutral expression and brightly rendered. These are your knights, soldiers and super-heroes. In contrast, the villain is illustrated to appear mysterious, lurking in the dark while hiding his disfigured face, fangs and menacing expression. His eyes are angled downward and are either wildly oversized, yellow, white or hidden. These are your monsters, warlords and super-villains.

Building Upon What Works For the Audience

When creating an infographic, abstracting ideas is the heavy lifting that designers do during the design process. This is fundamentally when designers start thinking about how they can reinvent the wheel, while improving the functionality and simplifying. It's difficult, and it's the challenge that drives many designers forward.

For me, as with many other designers, abstracting ideas is what I look forward to most during my day. It's the long coffee-fueled afternoon where I start sketching out ideas and evolve thoughts and concepts into refined illustrations. This dynamic time of creating, trashing and producing new ideas is challenging and undirected, but it can be structured efficiently by building upon what already works - without being boring.

You Know the Hero Always Wins at the End

In film and books, the hero always finds a path to success. It's predictable. You know the storyline is going to introduce the hero with all the traits previously noted in this article, then the hero struggles with a villain, to then a happy ending where the hero succeeds in overpowering the bad guy. The End.

Okay, so the hero vs villain storyline doesn't require much thinking. It's not thought provoking. It doesn't require a second viewing to understand the deeper meaning or spark a conversation afterwards. But that's okay. Because this story structure pulled from the cave walls of ancient times works, and is already engrained in everyone. So, all you have to do is find a way to piggyback on the structure, tailor the message to your audience and use it to your benefit.

As you'll see in the infographic below, I've taken the fundamental principles of writing and structuring an infographic and abstracted a very simple hero vs villain storyline throughout the visual.


How I Built an Infographic Around a Hero vs Villain

The goal of this infographic was to drive traffic and get shares. My strategy was to use a bright color scheme that would stand out on busy social media feeds and that would cater towards women, since women are more active on social media than men.

With this strategy, I illustrated a female victim being harassed by a stereotypical villain, because before you're a hero you are typically a victim. The backstory of most heroes is aligned with being harmed by the villain in the past. Plus, the character lines of a hero, victim and good guy can blur in storytelling. But since visual brevity is needed in an infographic, I wanted to hint that the villain was the stronger character and the attacker.

In storytelling, the bad guy is commonly introduced first. To build upon the existing narrative, I introduced the villain to start the infographic. To finalize my strategy, I wanted to also create a nostalgic element, because reminiscence encourages people to share.

I illustrated the old game of "telephone" throughout the visual to remind people of the old paper-cup and string game (using a landline cord) and to have the distance between the characters seem closer than in reality. I wanted to make it appear as if the villain was nearby the hero, to amp up the theme of unknown callers contacting you from an undisclosed location.

Let me help you guide your social media followers to your website.

Infographics can accomplish several things, but the biggest result you can get from an infographic is getting your followers on social media to share your infographic – giving you free advertising which can exponentially grow as other's share it, and more importantly encourage people to visit your website - entering your conversion funnel.

I can help you develop an infographic for your business or project. Email me a short note at and tell me when you're free this week to chat.

Chris Brock