Cool Tricks: As you’re overhauling your visualizations, these three edits are guaranteed to give you the biggest bang for your buck.
Remove unnecessary ink.
I immediately begin deleting or lightening everything without a purpose: the border, the grid lines, and the tick marks. Visualization guru Edward Tufte calls this strategy the data:ink ratio; we’re intentionally removing any ink that isn’t directly related to the data itself. These edits ensure our viewers will focus attention where we need it: on the actual patterns, not on the software program’s outdated and clunky lines.
Customize your color palette.
Next, I swap my software program’s random color scheme for a customized palette.
- As a consultant, I’m typically following my client’s branding. I scroll through the organization’s website, look at their logo, and skim publicly-available reports that were created with the aid of a graphic designer.
- In my former role as an internal evaluator, I would match my chart colors to my organization’s own logo and branding.
- When I create graphs through my role with AEA’s Data Visualization and Reporting Topical Interest Group, I match AEA’s exact shade of burgundy—RGB code 149:8:4—rather than sloppily choosing any old shade of red.
Editing color codes is simple. Newer versions of Excel on both PCs and Macs have built-in eyedropper tools. If you’re using an older version of Excel, follow the Uganda Evaluation Capacity Development Project’s step-by-step instructions for using a free tool called Instant Eyedropper.
Write a descriptive title and subtitle.
Today’s viewers want and deserve brevity, everyday language, and text that describes something about the actual finding—so that even the quickest report-skimmers will walk away having digested and retained the report’s contents. Bonus points: Select an important word or two from the title and make that word stand out (“chocolate” is in bold text and matches the graph’s dark brown color scheme). Then, add a one- or two-sentence subtitle (“Cookie dough was second most popular flavor”).
Rad Resource: Want to master these skills and more? I’m leading a pre-conference workshop at the Eastern Evaluation Research Society’s conference in April 2015. Bring your laptop so we can build these charts and more from scratch. See you there!
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