11 Jul power pairing: color + words
What’s one thing you’ll do differently after learning the storytelling with data lessons?
At the end of our workshops, participants reflect upon this question. The resulting discussion usually evolves into things that can be easily integrated into the day-to-day work already being done. One piece of advice we frequently give may surprise you—there are two easy actions that don’t require complicated technical skills! First, adopt the habit of stating your takeaway in words. Second, develop the practice of using color sparingly. Today’s post is a quick illustrative example that puts these tips to use.
At a recent client workshop, we discussed a visual similar to the one below— a snapshot of an organization’s current accounts payable (AP) by vendor at a point in time. At a basic level, the graph is fine. It’s cleanly designed with a left-aligned chart title, data labels incorporated into the bars, and no gridlines or chart border. The bar chart is easy for my eyes to read—I can quickly see that AP is highest for Microsoft and how incrementally larger it is compared to the other vendors because of a consistent baseline (the y-axis).
What I can’t easily see is what I should take away from this chart. At client workshops, we often don’t have this important context—instead, we’ll concentrate on approaches for highlighting potential takeaways. Below you’ll see several strategies for employing color + words in this visual. In each of these, notice how the words set up your expectations for what’s emphasized in the graph.
If the audience is interested in the highest spend, I could emphasize the largest vendor:
Perhaps the audience will be more curious where AP is concentrated. I could instead focus attention on the top vendors:
What if the conversation is about expectations—is this spend surprising or unsurprising? I might add additional context with super-categories—useful if the audience is unfamiliar with these vendors’ services—and employ similarity of color to visually tie the text to the data it describes.
Practice pairing color + words in your visuals to be more effective when communicating with data. Bonus: you don’t need fancy tools to do either of these things! Download the file for a peek at how I created these visuals in Excel.