Business information and data analysis are important to a modern corporation. The hidden relationships among different sets of information can help executives make better decisions. There’s just one trick: making the information intelligible to the executives. Massive reports become unreadable. That is why BI and big data analysis have embraced visual presentation of data.
Facts that are indecipherable within columns of numbers can jump out in a graphical format. But, done badly, visual presentations can harm your ability to communicate what you have learned. Need an example? Try this spot on the Web that claims to be the World’s Worst Website.
Is it really the worst? Probably not, and bad design is not restricted to the Web. There are plenty of examples of badly presented visual data. Here are some telltale signs that your visual presentation needs an overhaul:
- Someone adds pictures because they’re pretty or funny. Visual communication is similar in many ways to writing. You want to include only what is necessary to get your point across. Images can communicate effectively, as any good cartoonist or commercial artist knows, through creating emotional resonance or illustrating the implication of data. But if you add images just because something should be in there and they don’t actively contribute to the message, you’re heading down the wrong road.
- Color is one of your favorite tools. It’s always tempting to use color to make a point, like a traffic light. Everyone understands that, right? Well, in theory they do, but colorblindness affects eight percent of men and about 0.5 percent of women. You could be losing important parts of your audience if you count on colors alone to deliver a message.
- You’re unrestrained with fancy graphical tools. Effects that become incorporated for their own sakes are worse than indiscriminately using color. Instead of potentially losing a few percent of your audience, you run the risk of alienating almost all of it.
- Your visual displays are there to show off data. Just as each word in a sentence, sentence in a paragraph, and paragraph on a page must have a reason to be, so do visual displays. When graphs, not just pretty pictures, are added freely, the effect is like forcing far more verbiage into an explanation. You lose effectiveness. Make sure every graph and visual device is there to answer a specific question. That question could be any that end users might have, whether “Where are our products most effective?” or “What type of people reacted positively to our last marketing campaign?” Even if you’re presenting something that no one asked for, think through the questions they probably have that the information might answer.
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