Creatively communicating your dashboards and data

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This blog post was written by our Executive Creative Director Jon Lilley.

It’s no surprise that in today’s data-driven world, our communications messages are audited and analysed to ensure the right outtake is received from our campaigns. Data is turned into charts and graphs to show the effectiveness of campaigns to stakeholders and potential clients alike.

Nothing new there.

Audiences are frequently dealt a plethora of reports, slideshows and dashboards that although may contain all the right data, fail to get the message across.

Why? Because even people who are really interested in the output are still human and need to be engaged.

As professional communicators, it’s essential our dashboards and reports communicate the data well.

Look at it this way: would you hire a tailor who’s suit fitted badly? Or a web developer who’s website was hard to navigate? Probably not.

This has been a hot topic over the last few years with numerous articles being written in the profession press and even a few books on the subject being published.

Stephanie D.H. Evergreen is a well-known designer and researcher. She published the often referenced ‘Presenting Data Effectively: Communicating Your Findings for Maximum Impact’, which can be considered recommended reading for anyone interested in the subject.

But without a deep-dive at your local library, here are five ways you can make your dashboards and decks more digestible.

Tell a story with your data

To be useful data needs to be contextualised to give it impact. Don’t be focused on the analytical methods when creating a dashboard – be focused on how to communicate them effectively. It’s generally the consumers of analytics who make the decisions and not the aggregators. Describe the story behind the analysis and how the resulting data solves the problem. Where appropriate highlight actions to be taken and consequences of actions: such as return on investment or money saved.

Use Data Visualization

Some people really like looking at black & white numerical tables – but not many. For most, bringing the data to life with relevant imagery and colour is far more effective and memorable. And why stop there? Well thought out infographics can make data even more memorable by introducing charm and humour to a data set. Good use of colour and graphics can also lend the right tone to your deck. For example, use of bright colours can make your slides seem more optimistic and a use of strong dark colours can be used to make it feel more sombre.

Words matter

A dashboard may contain far fewer words than a report but they are equally important in telling the story. For example, instead of titling a slide ‘Air quality figures’, call it ‘Air quality shows uplift’ or ‘We’re beating pollution one car at a time’. Writing this way supports your narrative but also creates a ‘lens’ for your audience to understand the data you are about to present.

“Start with the end in mind'”

Stephen Covey coined this phrase in his best-selling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. It is equally relevant here. Start with your action items, conclusions and findings. This is what your audience really wants to know and will hook them in. So work out what you would write in a summary and then put that information up front. It’s not a BBC Drama: you don’t need cliff hangers.

What not to communicate

In order to keep the audience focused on the simple narrative, it is import to avoid technical terms they are not familiar with. Talking about ‘regression coefficients’ may make your slides more appealing to an analyst but it is going to make non data-experts think they are looking at a technical document, and thus feel they might not be qualified to evaluate it. This is the last thing you need. Plus it’s pretty pointless using language and phrases that your audience do not understand.

Use the ‘get in touch’ box below if you want some advice on designing your reports, dashboards and communications.

 

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