The ‘Before’ Chart
The chart above was shown to me by an ex-colleague of mine. Details were modified to protect the confidentiality of the original company. It displays six pie charts representing the KPI (key performance indicator) performance of departments of a division in August 2006. The chart shows the percentages of each department’s KPI performance in four categories represented by colour codes.
At its core, every chart, every graph, every visualization that we make, it is all about one thing, and that thing is communication. Communication to our audience, even communication to ourself. If the audience does not understand with relative ease the chart or the graph presented, then we have not been clear in our communication of the chart or graph. Granted, a chart is only one medium of communication. There is also the context in which the presentation of the chart is made, how it relates to the whole message of the particular presentation, and how the presenter verbally communicates the chart and hence its message. However, that topic is best saved for another time.
As the topic indicates, we are going to touch on the aspect of communicating clear message in charts. A chart is like a visual picture, and as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and so it does with a chart. Unlike a painting however, it should not take a person more than just a few moments to correctly identify and understand the message that a chart communicates. A chart needs to be simple enough to communicate its message almost instantaneously. Ideally, if the audience can understand a chart without the need for the presenter to explain it further, then that is the ultimate success in communicating clear message.
This principle is important when a person needs to communicate a message using limited medium, say a brochure for example. A typical brochure has very limited space. Plus, it is normally meant for mass distribution, which means the message originator would find it hard to communicate their message face to face. However, in the corporate setting, like the one I am used to, this is not so critical. More often than not, the presenter would have ample opportunity to explain his or her chart. Yet, this does not mean that one should care less about the way one presents the information.