Discover more from The Plot
Visualising impact (3)
How consistent design choices increase trust and speed up readability
When you were learning dataviz basics, someone probably told you to make consistent choices: use the same font size and weight for the titles, don’t switch up category colours from one chart to another, etc. I know it was one of the first things I learned. As we’ll see in a minute, that was really good advice.
This week, we’ll explore the third and last lesson from impact reports. If you missed the first two, read more about pies and chart titles here. Now, take a look at the GIF below which shows snapshots of about a dozen visualisations.
Do you think the charts above are from the same report? What makes you say yes or no?
They are. I grabbed them all from Tesla’s 2021 impact report. But they could easily not be. If you thought I’d mixed graphics from five different impact reports, that would have been a reasonable guess. The design of the charts is not consistent: the layout, typography and colour choices vary too much for them to look like they belong together.
Why does it matter? A cacophony of chart styles gives an unprofessional vibe—it looks like the organisation doesn’t take their data communication seriously, and coordinates its production poorly. It makes me trust them less. If they didn’t care enough to properly design their graphics, how can I be sure that they spend time vetting the data or highlighting its caveats?
Let’s now look at a different example.
Tesla’s collection of charts felt off. What about the IDEO design above? Coherence-wise, they feel just right. Once you figure out the colours and the layout structure for the first page, the rest of them are easy to digest. The font styles are repeated and the two major colours—orange and black—are used to direct you to key moments of the infographic. These designs are pleasing to the eye, and the attention to detail increases trust. And perhaps even more importantly, consistent design choices speed up the chart reading process. Isn’t this something we often seek for our busy audiences?
It’s highly likely that the difference in outputs is due to resources and team structure—IDEO is a renowned design company, whereas Tesla may not have a dedicated dataviz team. Many companies still don’t. What if that’s your case? How can you design effective and consistent reports with few resources? Aim for structure and simplicity. Here’s what you can do, today:
Choose a text hierarchy. If your organisation doesn’t have a corporate typeface, grab a versatile one like Inter or General Sans. Then, make a list of styles: for example, chart titles can be written in 24px bold and black, subtitles in 18px regular black, and axes labels at 14px regular dark grey. Once you find a system that works for you, stick to it.
Balance out the colours. Choose an accent colour or two—ideally, from your company’s brand—and use them systematically to highlight the most salient points in your graphs.
Here you go—you’ve just created your first design system!
If you’re wondering whether your current designs are up to par, below is the framework I use to evaluate mine—perhaps it will be helpful for you too!
If you need help designing great charts and infographics, consider doing one of the following:
Enroling in my upcoming data storytelling masterclass. Only three days left to join — don’t miss out!
Hiring me to consult on your graphic endeavours.
Any questions or comments? Hit reply to this email, and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours.
Thanks for reading The Plot. 📡
See you next week,