Information visualization is extremely effective at conveying complex concepts, helping individuals and groups quickly grasp what they need to know, understand, and act on. The Nour Group now offers information visualization services on the expertise of our Creative Director, Lin Wilson. He has combined his training as an illustrator with a background in marketing to bring visual understanding in a variety of formats, including process mapping, data visualizations, marketing communications and sales tools, job aids, current/future roadmaps, improved-state prototypes and graphic recording.
Lin shared his observations about information visualization with me recently. Take it away, Lin!
The true benefit is clarity
Frequently a company’s most valuable information is trapped in PowerPoint decks, product sheets, and capabilities brochures, spread across several formats and difficult to access. Teams, clients, and stakeholders lack a clear message to rally around. Or, the value is hidden in too many generic messages, riddled with corporate lingo that’s numbing the audience through their clichés, clip art and complexity.
Our approach creates a visual vocabulary that can extend across many communication needs. Situations ripe for visualization include:
- A complicated service or product: New ideas require time and effort to understand through verbiage. An image helps people understand not only faster, but more fully. Typically, confused people don’t buy things. Visualizing gets a value proposition across faster, with nuance and respect for the reader’s time, reducing sales cycles.
- An unmotivated workforce: When a merger, new leadership, or strategy shift has weakened the human capital of a firm, information visualization can reenergize the team. A visual has a way of prioritizing information, helping everyone in the company realize where the company is headed, and what their role can be. Graphical job aids for different divisions can drive that overarching vision down to specifics about what each individual is supposed to do to support the larger team.
With each iteration of our relationship to computers and devices, our consumption of content becomes more “a la carte.” Given our limited attention, we require just-in-time information that is relevant to our situation. In this persistent juggling of tasks, messages and meetings, David and I have found that clients are hungry for any kind of visual shorthand. They yearn for symbolic metaphors that they can understand as easily as the red EXIT sign over an emergency door on an airplane. This approach lightens the load of communicating complexity, internally and externally, across languages and cultures.
We may have a love/hate relationship with PowerPoint, but there is no escaping the fact that it is the main tool for corporate communications. What has been lost, as PowerPoint has become ubiquitous, is recognition that it requires skill to be an effective presenter. Our visualization work is used in PowerPoint decks as a way to arrest audience attention. There are several effective approaches:
- Key visuals: One slide can convey so much information you could talk about it for 45 minutes. The image provides a focal point for deep conversations.
- Storytelling: Adding theater to presentations—thinking in sequences and builds—helps our clients understand information as a story. Stories resonate with people, by touching their emotions. Stories plus visuals take it further.
White papers, one-pagers, product brochures, images for social media —these are also formats in which information visualization is effective.
A typical issue David and I see at companies: An inspiring presentation by a leader loses its impact soon after the audience leaves the room. The important strategies trapped in that slide deck never get fully seated in the audience’s minds. There’s nothing tangible to remember it by. Key tactics aren’t translated into sales tools or job aids and the desire to have everyone inspired is lost. David and I are excited about what we call “placemat” graphics, one oversize sheet that can be a handout at a meeting or conference. Today, a tangible piece stands out; you can draw on it, refer to it again. It doesn’t evaporate like a speech or social share. Some clients hang it on the wall or share it in their own way. Instead of teams exchanging long emails, they can rally around our visual and make some key decisions.
Another important format is the graphic designed for social sharing; small images that sum up company information, or tease a new product release. Many times we take an image we created for print collateral and reformat it vertically for a mobile share.
We’re seeing demand for information visualization wherever there is complex information to be communicated. Leadership and management are using visuals to communicate and motivate. The marketing function is finding this useful. The strategic human capital function, from onboarding to training and development to compliance, is benefiting from information visualization. In operations, graphical information is replacing verbiage in everything from job procedures to assembly instructions that go into a product package. Financial performance can be understood more clearly with data visualization. We draw attention to the story in the data, using the designer’s toolkit of color, line, and weight.
It is fun and productive for clients when visualization happens in real time. When we’re with a client in a conference room; I’m at the whiteboard, sketching as David probes:
- What does this client want to achieve?
- Who are the audiences for the information?
- What are they confused about?
- Why is the target not taking action?
- Is the problem a bad story, or a good story poorly told?
That is crucial. Many times there is more than one audience—everyone from the general public to PhDs. We will spend time defining their level of literacy in the necessary subject matter. David will challenge them on internal corporate lingo that might be alien to the intended audience. Can you say it in one picture? Or try to? Or do we need an overview (50,000 feet) with related graphics that go into further detail?
When clients see it drawn live, in front of them, they will have opinions. They will move through conflicts to resolve tensions. This is very different from the agency model where the creative types are reluctant to allow the client to collaborate. But when you’re creating clarity, it is extremely important that clients are involved, since they are the experts and we represent outsiders, challenging their assumptions, trying to understand.
Information visualization is a return to something innate in the human brain; a keen ability to process visual information. When we lived in caves, we drew stories on walls long before we had the written word. The time is ripe to apply this technique to business information.
Lin Wilson is joining me in conference rooms across the U.S. and beyond, freeing information trapped in corporate marketing collateral, manuals, planning documents, and key individuals’ minds. Could information visualization give your organization a winning edge?
- Information visualization can more easily educate customers about new products and services, more efficiently onboard new hires, and more cogently communicate a company’s story to key stakeholders.
- Information visualizations are useful in PowerPoint decks, print collateral, and social media—anywhere corporate communication takes place.
- To begin, consider where greater clarity would be strategically most beneficial: Marketing? Talent management? Operations? Finance? Governance?