Monday, October 31, 2011

Using Charts in PowerPoint

Geetesh Bajaj interviewed me for about using charts in PowerPoint. Check out the article here and leave a comment if you have anything to add:

Monday, October 17, 2011

3 Steps to Make Your Data Standout

How do you prove that you have the best idea or solution? Data. Back up your assertions with real numbers. We tend to believe quantitative data.

Step one: provide real-world data.

For example, you say your solution saves money. You could provide a spreadsheet that compares your solution’s costs to the current solution based on research conducted by a reputable resource. Unfortunately, spreadsheets can be difficult to digest and are far from memorable and compelling. Look at the following example. Is this the fastest way to analyze data?

Because, like you, viewers are often resource starved, rushed, and hate sifting through mountains of data to do their job, it is in our best interest to make data analysis easy.

Step two: turn data into a quantitative chart.

Consolidate data into bite size chunks that can be analyzed quickly. (You can include your spreadsheets as back up data when applicable.) Quantitative charts—like bar charts, area charts, line charts, and pie charts—make it easy to compare data. (To see more examples quantitative charts visit How easy is it to compare the following numbers?

Although much improved over a spreadsheet, a quantitative chart is not that memorable. Let’s face it, you see countless bar charts, area charts, line charts, and pie charts every year. What do you remember? If you are like me, not much.

Step three: use visual embellishment.
The Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada conducted an experiment to determine if visual embellishment in information charts was a detractor. Below is an excerpt from this study:

“Guidelines for designing information charts often state that the presentation should reduce ‘chart junk’ – visual embellishments that are not essential to understanding the data. In contrast, some popular chart designers wrap the presented data in detailed and elaborate imagery, raising the questions of whether this imagery is really as detrimental to understanding as has been proposed, and whether the visual embellishment may have other benefits. To investigate these issues, we conducted an experiment that compared embellished charts with plain ones, and measured both interpretation accuracy and long-term recall. We found that people‘s accuracy in describing the embellished charts was no worse than for plain charts, and that their recall after a two-to-three-week gap was significantly better.”

The following example published in the study’s findings shows a chart developed by Nigel Holmes (left), a renowned visual communicator, and a “plain version.” Which is more memorable?

For best results, I recommend combining a quantitative chart with a visual metaphor, simile, analogy or icon/symbol. Use of metaphors, similes, analogies, and icons to support data is proven to increase recollection. In the following example I use the material (lumber) for my bars to better communicate the subject matter and increase the likelihood that my data will stand out and be remembered (compared to other bar charts).

Most quantitative charts are far from unique and, therefore, fail to stand out. Using a visually embellished quantitative chart helps your data stand out, be remembered and, ultimately, help you succeed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

5 Typography Rules That I Use

Many times I see presentations and marketing materials and even websites using "razzle-dazzle" fonts that aren't readable or even appropriate. There are so many typefaces from which to choose, it can be daunting—not to mention various styles within each font family. So here are a few rules I employ when choosing a font for my project:

  1. Geetesh Bajaj of recently sent me a link for a poster that graphic designer Julian Hansen created to help people (in a very interesting and cheeky way) find the best typeface for their project. Check it out here. What I find most interesting is the text in the center which directs the reader on how to use the poster: Start out by choosing the kind of project that you'll need your typeface for. Just like choosing a style for your graphics, you want to understand your project's goal and then choose the appropriate typeface for your project. You wouldn't choose a whimsical font for the intro page of a company's website that supplies defense equipment to the government. Each font has an intrinsic meaning which your audience will subconsciously pick up. Underneath each typeface below is my impression of it; yours may be different. Always keep your audience and goal in mind when choosing a font.

  2. Use ALL CAPS, bold face, and italics—sparingly. I cringe when viewing presentations where bulleted sentences are entirely in uppercase. Not only does it seem like SOMEONE IS SHOUTING AT ME, but sentences in all caps are harder to read. I suggest only employing all caps for short titles and headings where you use small words or just a few words.

    I've felt annoyed reading brochures where all the text is bold. Annoyed because I don't know what is important. A bold typeface is a great way make essential phrases and concepts stand out from the rest. I apply bold to headings, subheads, titles, and key words within a paragraph. You run the risk of confusing your readers–and possibly annoying them–if your entire document uses a bold typeface.

    I've gotten a headache reading pages of italic text. Again, italic fonts should be used to make certain text and ideas standout. Because of the way the letters lean, it can be hard to read, which may turnoff your audience and they won't be willing to read more to learn about your product or service or concept. Consider using italics to highlight important ideas, in a heading or subhead, for a pull quote, to set off a paragraph quoting another source, or for reference or book titles.

  3. Use a ubiquitous font if other people will be working in or editing the document or presentation. Unless you can embed the font and are sure it will travel with your document, then stick to a font like Arial or Times New Roman. They are simple but will get the job done, especially for presentations. In a few instances, I designed my presentation on the Mac and needed to load it on a PC for delivery. I couldn't risk font substitution and would've needed to buy and load a PC version of my font onto the other computer which belonged to someone else, so that wasn't an option.

  4. Don't use more than 3-4 typefaces in one document. It can get messy—and confusing for the designer working on the project and your audience—if you throw in Goudy with Garamond with Futura and a touch of Univers. When using fonts that are close in structure like Futura and Univers, you run the risk of your document appearing awkward. Your audience will subconsciously pick up on the subtle differences between the typefaces from one paragraph to the next and it will put them off—like wearing navy blue and black. They are too close in color that it seems off when you try to pair them. Check out every aspect of the font before you choose one: What do the numbers look like? Will the punctuation print well? You may love the appearance of the letters but the numbers or punctuation may be odd. Remember, the less variety of typefaces you use, the cleaner your document will look and the more people will want to read it. If you want help in determining what fonts work well together here are two sites that offer some great suggestions: 19 Top Fonts in 19 Top Combinations and Typefaces that Work Together.

  5. Determine a font style for your document in the beginning. Your company may already offer a style guide that lists appropriate fonts for outfacing materials. If you're unsure, ask. It' a great resource to have and you want to tie in the font and colors used in your company logo to any marketing materials. You want to keep all the materials consistent because consistency breeds trust. Whenever I begin a layout on a document (either a brochure, catalog, or presentation), I first determine my typeface for body text, headings, any callouts or pull quotes, footers, footnotes, etc. My favorite look is to combine serif and sans serif fonts. I use sans serif for the main headings and serif for the body text. I find serif fonts easier to read in printed materials. (Think books. Most books contain a serif font for a reason.) I did learn recently that many website designers prefer sans serif fonts for websites because they feel it looks cleaner on the screen and is easier to read. The preference is up to you. But I recommend maintaining the same font family (or font combinations) throughout your materials to keep your documents clean and consistent.

These are my basic tips. There are many others that I also employ, and I found several websites with great advice in addition to the rules I just put forth:
Dynamic Graphics
Foam Train Fonts
Web Designer Depot

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Things I Learned at the Presentation Summit

With more presentation and design experts than you can shake a stick at, there was much to be learned at the Presentation Summit in Austin. Here are a few prime tips and resources to sink your teeth into:

  1. Tell a story with your presentation (which can apply to marketing materials like brochures and websites as well). Don't simply show charts or images to your audience. Connect these visuals with a story—a story in which your audience can see themselves and relate. Jon Thomas of Presentation Advisors said, "When audience members see themselves in your story, the need to persuade disappears."
  2. Carmen Taran, Rexi Media, surveyed her audiences after several presentations to learn what they remembered most about her slides. She found that when she had a slide with a bizarre image (like a pig with wings), the audience remembered that slide. When she had a contrast from one slide to another (like a large image to a small image), the audience remembered those slides. People act on what they remember and by changing up your slides (or even your websites or pages in your brochures), you will hold their attention and they will be more likely to buy into your product or service. Try mixing an odd image with something familiar to your audience. Go from predictable to the unexpected and they will want to look more closely to see what you're going to do next.
  3. PowerPoint 2010 is more powerful than I imagined, and Sandy Johnson of Presentation Wiz helped me realize it. You can import Illustrator files as eps and ungroup the elements. The Combine Shapes feature allows you to create simple vector images and icons that are fully editable. Check out Sandy's website for a pdf tutorial on how to use the tool and begin creating your own icons and vector images. I think Illustrator may have to watch its back soon ...
  4. I've always set up templates for Word with styles and colors specified. As for my slides, I've set up the slide masters and a template slide with style choice but ... that was it. Then Julie Terberg of Terberg Design demonstrated that I was short changing myself and those editing my presentations. Creating theme colors in PowerPoint saves time in importing graphics, text, charts, SmartArt, etc. Because, if you used theme colors to set up your template, PowerPoint will automatically update the colors of what you import into your template, saving you loads of time. Julie has a great explanation in her blog for how to best do this. I bookmarked it!
  5. The final lesson I wanted to talk about is "failure." Yes, I said, "failure" and it isn't a typo. As Rick Altman brilliantly said in his Monday morning talk, he wanted us all to fail during the conference and when we left. Now Rick wasn't hoping we wouldn't succeed in life, he was referencing Denzel Washington's commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania. He encouraged the graduates to take risks "because nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks." He told those graduates not to be afraid to "fall forward" and learn from their failures and mistakes. Do not be afraid of failure but embrace it, because failing is one of the most powerful ways to grow, to improve, to become better presenters, designers, managers, writers, trainers ... whatever it is we want to be.