We are excited to share some useful tips for creating visually appealing findings reports for federal clients. Allow us to introduce the team—Jessie Rouder, Alyssa Contreras, Samantha Hubbard, Chloe Bryen, Michelle Segall, and Cindy Hockaday are based in ICF’s Public Health Solutions portfolio. In late 2022, the team supported the creation of several reports to disseminate key evaluation findings to federal clients related to improving health outcomes for school-aged youth.
Based on these experiences, we have four hot tips:
Tip 1: Check in with the client
Before you start working on the report, check in with the client about their assumptions. Do they want to know about the process, the outcomes, or both? What specific findings do they want to be highlighted in the report? With whom will the report be shared? To avoid being too vague, consider sharing examples of previous work with the client to confirm the direction. This helps to ensure that everyone agrees on the task and expectations for the final product.
Tip 2: Create a shared workspace
Before we start designing graphics, the internal team decides on a primary data visualization tool. We use tools like Canva and PowerPoint, which each have different design elements and capabilities. Canva has great templates for formatting reports, and if we are using Canva for the full report, it is easiest to create the data visualizations there. PowerPoint has easy-to-edit shapes, charts, and icons, so sometimes it makes most sense to work mainly in PowerPoint. We create one master file in the tool of choice to help us keep track of inspiration and ideas. In this file, we write all the ideas we want to communicate visually and include screenshots and example of data visualizations we may want to use. We apply the client’s template (colors, fonts) to the file to ensure graphics are formatted consistently across the report. If we are using a non-web-based tool (e.g., PowerPoint), we save this file on a shared drive (e.g., Microsoft Teams), which allows us to co-create graphics, tag colleagues to request feedback and work simultaneously.
Tip 3: Talk it out
We start by adding the text—then, we talk it out, either to ourselves or a colleague… how do the ideas relate to one another? What are the most important components we want to highlight? Does this graphic communicate the key findings accurately and without confusion? At this stage, it can be helpful to share a draft of your ideas with the client to solicit preliminary feedback prior to formatting. We often share a Word document outlining our ideas for presenting findings and include screenshots of examples or draft data visualizations. Design should come last—first focus on the relationship between ideas. Once you have the flow and relationship worked out, you can work on formatting.
Tip 4: Duplicate and investigate
Once we get to design, we duplicate the data visualizations over and over so we can compare and contrast different variations and share concepts for team review and input. You can play around with shapes/colors/layout without having to undo or redo. This is a great way to experiment with different visual ideas.
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