Data presentation done well can empower decision makers to visualise and understand difficult concepts or relationships, or to identify new patterns for actionable insights. Done poorly, it can muddle and confuse, or even worse, lead to poor decisions based on your good data.
Well-designed data visuals are concise, clean, and focused on the audience. This means they’re designed with the message in mind – the presenter has asked themselves the question: “what do I want my audience to understand about this?”
The elements on your chart that are not absolutely crucial to the message you’re trying to convey to your audience are called chart junk.
No one intentionally adds to chart junk, it just often comes standard in the programs we regularly use: Excel, PowerPoint, all Apple & Google equivalents etc. These tools make creating charts so easy and we rarely change the defaults.
Here are 5 tips that you can use for your data to present it more effectively:
1. Remove Stuff. Then Remove Some More Stuff.
Remove any ‘ink’ that is not necessary. Anything decorative – a border, gridlines, a superfluous heading.
Every piece of ‘ink’ on your screen has to be processed by your audience and adds to their cognitive load. The more they have to process, they more they’re distracted from the message. Often, the actual numbers aren’t the important part – it’s the trend or the relationship between them.
2. Ease Up On The Colour
I said people don’t really add to chart junk, but I do see people adding this all the time. And I get it – a coloured chart feels much more interesting than a monochrome one. And I’m not saying don’t use colour, but unless the colour is adding to the message and the meaning of your graph – ease up on it.
3. Banish Gradients. Forever.
Sometimes people like to get fancy and they find the gradient tool. Apart from being a bit overwhelming for the eyes to begin with, the gradient stops us interpreting the absolute number that the graph is trying to represent. It makes each of us perceive it differently which dilutes your message. Again, it’s unnecessary cognitive load.
4. Label Effectively.
A legend is a default setting that can be frustrating for your audience. There is time and energy spent on matching up colours in the categories to the slices of the chart. Putting your label directly on the data will immediately save the distraction of identifying each category.
5. 2D. Not 3D.
Like rock beats scissors, 2D always beats 3D.
Just like a gradient, a 3D effect can change how we perceive the numbers that are being presented due to the angles and area taken up by the edges. It might look a little more ‘alive’, but a 3D graph just isn’t an effective way to represent data.
The moral of the story here is just to keep things simple and always keep your message in mind. A picture can be worth a thousand words and a is great for showing numbers, and the relationship between those numbers, but less is more.
If your team could use some help with presenting their data, let’s have a conversation. Connect with me below or email me at [email protected].