This article should be read as a continuation of the previous two posts in our series about the importance of data visualization in business communication – a broad area encompassing our concept of Gantt Art. Our last two posts covered important theoretical concepts in Speaking PowerPoint, by Bruce R. Gabrielle.
In part three of this series, we’ll cover some best practices in presentation design. We’ll also get into what we consider the most exciting and challenging area, which is information design.
In this part of the book we found a few “gems” which we will highlight with a bold, capitalized “GEM:”
1. Slide design fundamentals
Slide Title: The most important element of a slide…
- Titles should be written in full sentences
- Clear titles will force discipline on the writer
- Have one message per slide, communicated by the title
- No more than two lines of text in the title
Chunking: (the author’s term for grouping) Only use 3-4 informational elements in a slide to avoid loss of clarity in your message
- If you have a lot of data, see if there is a more logical sub-grouping that you can “chunk” the data into
- “Rule of Four” says we can only hold up to 4 things in our working-memory at once
- From Gestalt Theory: Sub-groups must be perceived as separated by space, have commonality, are enclosed by a border
- Any groups connected with a line will be perceived as related to one another
One thing we encounter a lot at Chronicle Graphics are people who are trying to create a Gantt Chart with lots and lots of tasks on a page. While the 50 or so tasks placed in the view makes sense to them since they are so in tune with the data, to someone who isn’t as in the weeds having so much in one place makes it much more difficult to absorb.
OnePager has two really easy ways to help you group tasks visually: swimlanes and colors. Of course, you need to have thought about what intrinsic attribute your tasks and milestones share that will cause them to be grouped together, such as phase, risk value, resources, status, critical path, etc. Once you group your tasks and milestones into 3-4 groups, they are much more easily absorbed.
In the below example, notice how a simple grouping of tasks and milestones into swimlanes and colors helps break up the chart into a more consumable slide.
Picture-Superiority Effect: Gabrielle gives some great insight into why pictures are important in presenting information and have been proven to be superior to text alone.
All of our users know that this is why OnePager is critical as a business tool!
Gantt Charts, flow-charts, graphs, decision-trees, pie charts, grids, bar charts, and icons are all examples of images that can help clarify a message. Many more examples are provided in the book, which are worth reviewing in their entirety.
Text: Gabrielle suggests, and we agree, that text is the most difficult thing to get right in your presentation. Here are some highlights of what he thinks will help avoid mistakes with text:
Briefing Deck (Boardroom-style)
- GEM: You can have…”text or pictures with sparse text, but not pictures with extensive text.”
- Use bullets separated by white space, but not sub-bullets
- Limit to 3-4 bullet points (use chunking if you have more)
- Do not use animation – studies conclude this doesn’t improve retention
- Provide handouts
- Use pictures and text
- Limit to 3-4 bullet points (use chunking if you have more)
Reading Deck (must stand alone)
- Write bullets as full sentences
- Consider shapes/icons instead of bullets
- Use selective a border around text that must be read (paragraphs separated by white space and border) instead of long-winded bullets. We often train our OnePager users to utilize text boxes to insert talking points if the visual needs to stand on its own.
- Making fonts for labels larger than the body text will encourage skimming while same-size labels will encourage more thorough reading
- Strategies for lots of text
- More slides
- Introduction slide (less text) with body text slide (more comprehensive)
- Add text to the notes section of the slide
- Use comments
- Consider voicing over certain points
Gabrielle makes the argument quite successfully that color can be “one of the most powerful elements on your” slides, when used effectively. He cites several examples and studies in which color has been put to practical uses, such as Baker-Miller Pink, which has been used to reduce hostile behavior in prisoners. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baker-Miller_Pink
Color can be used for:
It is suggested that 3-4 colors is a good rule of thumb (to coincide with the 3-4 chunks of information), however, we’d like to suggest (and Gabrielle states this separately) that if color begins to make your slide look busier than it has to be, then you are over-using color. A contrast background and text colors should not be a part of the 3-4 color rule.
The book cites a website (http://kuler.adobe.com
) that allows you to upload an image and it will create a custom color palette for you, based on the colors in the image…pretty cool!
Contrast: According to the author, contrast is the most important principle to learn in order to make the best use of color in your slides. It will make the information more
consumable and eye-popping. The more contrast (or as some say “complementary”) the colors are the more your information will stand out. The same kuler.adobe website can show you complementary colors.
A good test that is pointed out to ensure you have enough contrast is the “squint test,” where you close your right eye and squint with your left eye to see if there is enough separation between colors in your elements. Another option is
to change everything to gray scale, which will also provide a good indicator of contrast when colors are turned on.
GEM: “When everything is treated as equally important, the reader will have trouble finding a starting point and a path into your slide.”
2. Information Design – A special skill that the author talks about a lot in the latter portion of his guide. Here are a few takeaways on what he thinks are the most important things to know about Information Design.
Information Hierarchy: A principle that suggests you need to have a “picture” or focus point for what you want the audience to glean from the slide, and the rest of the information is simply supporting material. The content can be presented visually in such a way as to call attention to the focus point, while allowing the reader to engage in the supporting points as you want or direct them to.
In OnePager, we provide users the ability to highlight certain visual elements manually or by using conditional formatting. Let’s use RAG (Red Amber Green) status as an example:
The example shown is highlighting tasks that have a Red status, and subduing Green tasks by automatically applying a different border, height, and font to those shapes…OnePager handled this formatting change for the user. If the red tasks were to somehow miraculously slip back into Amber status next week OnePager will show them formatted how the Amber tasks are set up to show in next week’s snapshot.
The hierarchy of status Red – Amber – Green is a great example of how you might want to set up your visual elements to be presented or be more/less prominent based on their status. Red tasks are the most important information present, or as the author calls it, the focus point, and OnePager has automatically formatted them to pop like they are.
GEM: It is also suggested rightly that further emphasis can be placed on the focus point by separating it with space.
GEM: Pulling out the focus point while subduing the supporting information is also what the author suggests will curb an eye-chart or messy slide that people have a naturally poor reaction to.
Understanding that most of us read in an F pattern helps us to place the most important content on the top/left side of our materials and work to the right/down. This scientifically supported understanding has been a cornerstone of web design since the popularity of the web began in the ‘90s.
I’d be short-changing Bruce Gabrielle’s work if I didn’t mention that there are oodles of pages of guidance for specific situations as well, such as how best to execute a table, and various types of chart examples that will help you decide what visual element may work best depending on the type of information you’re looking to illustrate. Way too many to include here, but worth the read if you spend a lot of time in PowerPoint.