Charts and Graphs
or, "What's the big deal? It's only a pie chart! Isn't it?"

animated pie chart

(Chart is simplified for reduced-size display here. Actual charts would have more descriptive labels and visible statistical data.)

** (Doubt that numerical memory is limited? Ever forgotten a numerical password, telephone number or a zip code? We are bombarded with so much data every day that our minds simply can't recall it all on demand. That's why marketers introduced phone numbers like 1-555-CALL-MOM and courses like Dale Carnegie spend time teaching students to create memorable combinations of images to help them recall names and associations.)


The art of creating effective charts and graphs is far more complex than simply understanding how to make the charting features of your spreadsheet or graphics program "work." One key facet of the instructional design process is the understanding of the subtle psychology of color, of placement, and of presentation.

The primary reason presenters use charts and graphs is to render complex or abstract data more understandable and memorable. This is particularly important when you are working with statistical data, as most people have very limited numerical memory. **

Poorly-designed charts can work against you, by obscuring rather than reinforcing your point.

A Simple Chart Re-Design

  • The chart at left was created to show the relative makeup of a majority coalition, but the prominent positioning of the minority data (pale yellow in the original, black in the final version) delivered a confusing message.
  • The pastels appeared hesitant and unsure--"washed out." At a distance, the fine lines and text were difficult to see, as well.
  • The original similarity in color between 2 of the slices implied other (inaccurate, inappropriate) similarities in the data they represented
  • By choosing bolder, high-contrast colors and by re-positioning the chart, we've shifted the focus to the information most important to presenter and viewer.

Questions About Color Choices

  • Are the demographics or econographics of the intended audience factors in chart design?
    • If the majority of your viewers are male, would you color the most important data point in your chart red, blue, or green?
    • Should that choice change if the intended audience is predominantly female?
  • Are there "best" and "safest" colors? Are there absolute taboos?
  • Does color matter if you are delivering a positive, negative, or neutral message?
  • Does color matter if you are trying to inspire trust, educate, or intimidate the viewer?

At KPD, we not only employ our understanding of the science of color and vision for our clients, we teach them how to use color and imagery effectively, too!

In INSIGHT BY DESIGN workshops, we discuss these topics and use of jargon, language and gestures, understanding audience personality archetypes, and many other topics. While the basic principles of business communication are universal, the each workshop is customized to the needs of the client.

Click HERE to schedule an INSIGHT BY DESIGN seminar for your business or organization


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