Thinking Visually

The team sat down to their monthly meeting. From the back of the room the latecomers squinted and whispers abounded as newcomers asked their neighbours to explain what the data meant. Are the scales supposed to be different? Why is the font size so small? Why so much on one chart? All this besides the overarching question of what did all that data mean anyway? Are we doing well or not? It all seemed a bit of a jumble, but not just today, it seemed as if it had been this way for months. No, maybe years!

Sound familiar? It’s the same in organisations all over the world and all too frequently. So in this month’s Your Future State I’m going to ask you some simple questions and propose one sample solution.

Why do you need all that data in your presentations and reviews and what purpose is it serving you? Is it creating clarity or confusion? Focus or frazzle? How else could you present it and what are the few key indicators that will make your message clear and more easily understood?

I was struck just the other week by how with some creative thought and some alternative presentation strategies, otherwise complex data can be more easily summarised. This helps others to more easily interpret the data and make meaning of it. Below is a picture from Metro (a free UK daily newspaper) that summarises some key statistics from the US Presidential elections. What do you notice? Here’s what I pick up on:

Note the use of just two colours to simply represent the two key parties;

The use of graphics instead of graphs;

The use of relative size to better represent quantity or percentage;

The clever representation of 6 measures in less than 1/4 of a newspaper page;

And what else? Please let me know any other observations that you make.


So my call to action this month:

  • Take a hard look at the graphs and charts being used within your reports, your team, your organisation today.
  • Truly, how useful are they? What do others around you say?
  • Do you churn them out every week or month just because that’s what you’ve always done?
  • As well as cutting out the charts and measures that aren’t as meaningful as you think they are, how could you more creatively present the data?
  • And when you’ve done all that, please share your thoughts and stories with me via