Tag Archives: informational design

Data Display: Which Format Fits Best?

In almost every slide deck, there’s at least one assertion requiring the back up of solid data. Presenters are faced with the challenge of how to display this data in a way that supports the conclusion offered in an easily understood way.

When choosing a format for data display, ask yourself the question, “What does this slide have to prove?” (Then, make that answer your title.) Explicitly identifying the main argument will help you evaluate whether your chart choice is doing its job. Let’s take a look at some common data display formats* and how and when they are best used:

Tables

Tables get a bad rap when it comes to informational design, but that’s only because they are often used when another format would have better represented the data. True, tables fail to make trends and patterns immediately obvious, but they still have value.

Custom Slide Design | Table Slide | Presentation ServicesTables are great at comparing detailed information about several related items at once. Take this table slide: The table delivers a lot of information about the importance of the various application capabilities across a range of application categories in a matrix format. This data does not need to convey a trend or pattern through numbers; it needs to show similarities across categories. This is when a table work best.

Line Graphs

Slide2Often line graphs are used to compare too many elements at once; the result is a cacophony of lines squirming all over the slide. A good rule of thumb for choosing a chart type is to select the chart type that will prove your argument most simply. Line graphs are best for showing simple trends over time. 

Bar Graphs

Slide3Bar graphs are a great choice when the information is a little more complex but needs to be easily compared over time or between groups. In this example, each bar represents overall stock value, and the stacked sections give more detail about where that value is coming from. Although it does represent change over time, using a line graph for this data would look chaotic.

Pie Charts

Pie charts take a lot of heat in the design community, but I firmly believe they have their place. They must be used carefully, as it is true that it is harder for the brain to judge the differences in area than differences in length. Pie charts should be avoided when the specific numbers represented are vital, when there are only small value differences among data points or when there are more then 5 or so data points.

Slide4However, pie charts excel at showing general percentages in the break down of a larger whole. This pie chart gives a quick and easy to understand overview of the make up of a company’s patent portfolio and uses color to speed understanding of finer points: the blues group the U.S. patents against the foreign patents, and the paler colors group the pending patents against those already granted.

Selecting the right format for your data is crucial to proving your point and persuading your audience. Special attention should be paid to whether the data is displayed powerfully. Does it address the assertion in your title? Is it easy to understand quickly? Are your annotations and labels meaningful or extraneous? Good graph design is like any other good design. Everything that appears on the slide must have a reason for being there and it all must work together to create meaning.

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 *All slides in this post are taken from the body of work for one particular client. Sensitive information, including company identity, has been withheld. 

The Value Of The Visual

Between the horrendous NSA slides and the disappointing prosecutorial closing presentation in the Trayvon Martin case, we’ve seen some pretty terrible slide design in the news lately. These recent examples might seem like the exception, but unfortunately, they indicate the underlying perception that presentations are not valuable workproduct. Visual communication is a huge opportunity in the business sphere. Even more than briefs and spreadsheets, great presentations can engagepersuade, and increase information retention.

The NSA’s PowerPoint presentation on the Prism Program was intended as an educational piece about electronic surveillance. Visual communication is a great approach to communicating data and complex ideas in an understandable way, but the NSA missed an opportunity when they neglected to prioritize the quality of their graphics. The template and graphics are so poorly designed that they come across as confused and convoluted.

NSA Prism Slide Original | Presentation Design

Below, we’ve simplified the template to focus on the main point: the diagram of telecommunication data exchange. To increase speed of comprehension, we’ve added visual cues and changed the configuration of the diagram to emphasize the US as the “backbone.”

NSA Slide | Prism Powerpoint | Redesigned

The slides from the Trayvon Martin trial were so poorly constructed that they received some harsh words in the press. This slide from the Prosecutor’s closing arguments looks slopped together.

Trayvon Martin Slide Design

It’s hard to imagine that any professional would feel comfortable with this slide, never mind a prosecutor with 20 years of experience. Some quick finesse adds credibility:

Trayvon Martin | Slide Design | Improved

In the age of life-like video games and multimillion dollar advertising budgets, great design is all around us and subpar design has never been so obvious. Poor quality visuals damage not only the credibility of the presenter and organization, but also that of the arguments. Failing to spend the necessary time and resources on visual communication is an insult to the audience.

From the classroom to the courtroom to the boardroom, presentations can be excellent tools for communicating complex ideas, arguments, and strategies in a way that is memorable and easy to understand. Investing in the design and development of visual communication is as important as ensuring quality in all areas of professional communication.

For more thoughts how to employ presentation design in business, pop over to our Expertise page.

Infographic: The Importance Of Visual Communication

Infographics are gaining in popularity and is it any wonder why? Great for generating brand or message awareness, these share-worthy marketing pieces catch the eye and engage the audience. As our attention spans get shorter, infographics chunk information into bite size pieces perfect for quick consumption of main concepts. Check out our infographic on why visual communication has become so important to getting your message across:

Infographic

Order, Chunking & Repetition: The Memorability of Organized Information

Presentation_Design_Organized_Information_new-03
We’ve explored the effect visual and emotional stimuli has on memory, but the Art of Memory works only begin with these two ideas. There are numerous other tactics and theories covered in the literature. For the most part, those theories all revolve around one main tactic: organizing information.

When presenting, the best way to insure your message stays with your audience is to communicate with them in ways that their brains can easily process, commit to memory and recall. The brain understands the world around it by creating associations among the occurrences and information it perceives. Take a note from the brain’s penchant for organizing information and organize your arguments.


Order

When the brain perceives the world around it, it strives to make sense out of what it perceives. What came first? And then what happened?

There’s a reason that timelines and flowcharts have become presentation staples. An argument line should always be accompanied by linear order of events, whether they be in the past, present or future. By placing information into a linear order and supplying a visual aid for the brain to recall, you’re helping the brain to form a story line in the manner to which it is accustomed.

Information Chunking

Long sets of information are tedious and often too detailed for the brain to reliably recall. By chunking information into groups of associated facts, you’re doing some of the work of the brain.

Information chunking can be used in many ways throughout a presentation. Divide a long timeline up into “eras.” Talk about the four main benefit categories of your product, even if within each bucket lie many specific benefits. Categorize facts into argument buckets: premeditation, crime and cover up.

Repetition

If you’ve ever suffered through late night advertising, you’re familiar with the benefits of repetition. Those ads can be so cloying and irritating. And yet, you remember it. So how can repetition be employed without annoying your audience?

Presentation_Design_Roadmap_Slide Every presentation should use a “roadmap,” or overview, slide. A roadmap slide will outline the
linear order of your presentation and list the major information chunks you are about to share, plus it comes with the added bonus of being the landing slide between each section. Without the cloyingly obvious “repeater” effect, you get to remind the potential buyer that your product markets, tracks, automates and analyzes several times throughout your presentation. A roadmap slide creates order, chunks your information and fixes your arguments into the listener’s brain with repetition. It it the holy grail of information organization.

The many works that cover the Art of Memory explore many options for enhancing the memorability of information. Though originally developed to aid the rememberer, these principles can be leveraged to create more memorable presentations. Keep in mind the effects of visual stimuli, emotions and information organization when preparing your next presentation and use the tips to not only reach your audience, but stay with them long after you’ve left the stage.