Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How to Make the Right Graphic and Avoid the Wrong Graphic

Recently, I was asked, “I need to show an ‘XYZ’ process (note: this could be any specific action, concept, or thing) but cannot find an example. What should I do?”

I offered them the following two steps to resolve their challenge, which you can apply when faced with developing a new graphic concept.

Step 1

Determine your ultimate goal for showing an “XYZ” process. (Uncovering your graphic's goal is essential when creating any type of graphic—process, organization, overview, quantitative, etc.). For example, is your goal to simply communicate the steps in the process or is it to show how your “XYZ” process is the superior solution? I call this step determining the primary objective. In my experience, most proposal graphics—more than 80%—fail because the author of the graphic has not determined the correct primary objective.

Recently, I supported an IT bid. My client (we’ll call them ABC Company) needed to show that their solution achieved their potential client’s goals, which we later determined were lower cost, increased network speed, and greater uptime. Unfortunately, the engineer tasked had not formalized his primary objective. His approach was to develop a network diagram. Below is an example of a generic network diagram similar to the graphic used. (The graphics in this article contain none of the original information, but the concept is similar enough for this explanation.)

The engineer was very familiar with the current network used by his potential client. He noted, “By restructuring their network, they would lower costs, reduce risk of down time, and increase overall speed.”

He was on the right track but knew it was unlikely that their potential client would link his graphic with their specific goals. Upon further discussion, we determined that ABC Company was offering to do more than a restructuring of their potential client’s network architecture to achieve these goals.
Uncovering the primary objective usually results in a completely different graphic. Let’s take a look at an example of the resulting superior graphic approach. (Here’s a secret: Your primary objective is most likely your caption. For example, the following would be this graphic’s caption: Our three-step XYZ process ensures lower cost, increased network speed, and greater uptime.)

Step 2

When faced with developing a graphic with specific content, your next step is to find examples of graphics that show the same concept. There are several resources I recommend for graphic ideas:

  1. Google Images —Type in your concept to see how others have used visuals for similar concepts. A great source to find ideas for how to develop your graphic.
  2. iStockPhoto—Type in a concept and you'll be given images that relate to your concept. You can download and purchase these images for immediate use.
  3. Visual Literacy Periodic Table—A great place to look for graphic ideas.

Also, through Billion Dollar Graphics you can use the following resources for graphic ideas:
  • BizGraphics On Demand—Type in a concept and see how many ways you can show your idea. (You can also purchase these PowerPoint graphics to use as a starting point for your graphic.)
  • Business Graphics Library—Search through our graphic samples for inspiration.
Your goal is not to find an example of a “XYZ” process but rather to find similar concepts like flow charts, cyclic processes, and step-by-step graphics. The concept is key. Next, tailor the graphic concept to meet your needs by adding your information. I recommend that you start with graphics that share the same concept. This step eliminates the “blank page syndrome.” Leverage a graphic with a similar primary objective and tailor the content and graphic elements to meet your needs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Think Outside the Pie Chart

You replaced your bulleted, text-heavy, boring slides with clear, compelling graphics. Unfortunately, some of your graphics are overused or fail to capture the essence of your idea or solution. (How many times have you seen a temple graphic—looking like the Parthenon—in a presentation?)

Below are some new ways to present your content visually and increase the power of your presentations. The following graphic types are the tip of the iceberg (to use a visual metaphor).

1. Bridge Graphic
This graphic is a metaphor depicting the connection or transition between two actions, concepts, or entities. A bridge connects two separate pieces of land. It crosses over rough water or highways to allow vehicles and pedestrians to safely pass. A bridge graphic is a perfect way to show two companies transitioning into one. Operational flow, process solutions (overcoming the risky waters), system integration, and many other concepts can be succinctly communicated using a bridge graphic.

2. Chain Graphic
Chain graphics show "linked" actions, concepts, or entities. Alternatively, chains illustrate restraint or security. Instead of a Venn diagram, what about a chain diagram? Instead of showing linked concepts with boxes and lines, show a chain of departments, processes, or people to convey the same idea. Use a lock to show a (secure) connection between actions or departments. Or just overlay the chain on top of items to demonstrate security.

3. Conveyor Belt Graphic
This graphic is a metaphor that depicts a repeatable linear process. Conveyor belt graphics are a great way to show forward movement in a process such as assembling a product, recruitment and training steps, lifestyle enhancements, course overview, or system development.

4. Dashboard
Dashboards present multiple metrics–potentially using multiple graphic types—in one consolidated format. It is a “holistic” view of information. On multiple slides you have pie carts, a map, a line chart that all relate to each other. Why not put these objects on one introductory slide to help your audience reach a desired conclusion. (You can then delve into the specifics of each piece on the subsequent slides.)

5. DNA Graphic
This graphic illustrates the synergy of multiple actions, concepts, or entities. Together they combine to create a new, better solution (and breath new “life” into the project). The strands of the DNA can represent two key concepts (like a software tool and a corporate process) with the chromosomes connecting the two via common elements (like activities needed to combine the strand content).

6. Dome Graphic
A dome graphic looks like a “snow globe” illustrating the containment of elements. The dome graphic is great at communicating protection and security. Generally, you combine a “stacked graphic” (shown here) with the dome to show levels in a system, process, or methodology and how the levels relate to one in a secure environment—the dome.

7. Fishbone Diagram
This graphic shows all factors that have an effect on a problem or objective. (Think cause and effect.) The small bones can represent categories, strategies, processes, and departments that join at the spine to create the final outcome.

8. Peg Graphic
This graphic shows the interconnectivity of actions, concepts, or entities to create a unified whole (think Legos®). Use a peg graphic for systems connecting and interacting with one another, building of a process, or departments coming together to form an improved or upgraded solution.

9. Pipe Graphic
This graphic metaphor represents the isolated flow of elements. Instead of using a flowchart, use a pipe graphic to represent concepts like consolidation, synthesis, or combination. Inversely, a pipe graphic can illustrate dispersion or diffusion. Pipe graphics are versatile and can communicate a wide variety of concepts.

10. Road Graphic
This graphic is a metaphor depicting the path between the “as is” or “before” state to the “to be” or “after” state. Like the bridge graphic, a road graphic can show transition and a connection for a process or system. A road graphic is perfect for demonstrating a “future state” or a long-term goal that is “down the road.” It could also be used as an ending to a presentation to illustrate the goal reached at the end of the process.

For more ideas check out Do-It-Yourself Billion Dollar Business Graphics or gather ideas at our Graphics Library or peruse BizGraphicsOnDemand.com to find thousands of graphics that better communicate your story.