Author: Mike Parkinson
Part 2 of 2
Mike Parkinson is an internationally recognized visual communication expert and multi-published author. Visit
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with any questions about visual communication. Mike is also a partner at 24 Hour Company, a premier proposal and presentation graphics firm.
Previously, I shared one of two key steps to making powerful presentation graphics—create audience-focused visuals by knowing your primary objective. In this article, we will learn to use another key step to make successful presentation graphics: organization and order.
Have you seen this slide?
This slide accompanied The New York Times article titled, “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint” by Elisabeth Bumiller (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html). Part of a presentation to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and other officials, this graphic depicts the complexity of the American military strategy in Afghanistan. However, if the author of the slide intended to show how the strategy is convoluted and confusing, he succeeded, because no one in the room could follow it. After viewing this PowerPoint slide, the general commented, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”
This graphic is a prime example of “what not to do” when conceptualizing and creating a visual. Though I can find many problems with this slide, the main issue is a lack of organization and order. Where does the process begin? Where does it end? Is this even a process? How do these various groupings relate to one another? Is one more important than the others? The author did not follow organization best practices and created a graphic that is difficult to follow and understand. The audience missed the intended message, and the author lost credibility.
As you conceptualize your graphic, “chunk” your information then assemble the parts into a digestible format. Determine the most important bits of information you want to communicate and arrange them to show the relationship between one another. You can chunk information into bullets, shapes, or place them inside of appropriate imagery (pyramids, puzzles, etc).
It is important to know the objective of your graphic and how best the information will be conveyed to determine the order. Does one element support the rest? Try a pyramid graphic. Is this a review process? Consider a flowchart or circular arrows. Does this graphic show a management team? Use an organizational chart along with photographs of the top personnel (people like seeing other people in graphics). Do you have offices across the country close to your client’s facilities? Show a map with stars for your offices and circles for theirs to demonstrate the close proximity.
Before you begin any graphic, consider how you can chunk the information by using organization, hierarchy, and/or grouping techniques. This step will determine what graphic type to use and will make it easier to create your graphic. Also, remember to properly arrange the information in a balanced format to help your graphic stay clean and focused. Below are examples of these best practices and how to properly apply them when chunking your data.
There are five ways to organize information: alphabetical/sequential, time, magnitude, category, location.
Use color, shade, and positioning to illustrate hierarchy. Some are culturally specific. Know your audience to determine how they read visual information.
There are three ways to group elements: using a similar physical appearance, organized positioning, and constraining or linking lines or shapes.
Use a grid to align your lines, shapes, and imagery to ensure your graphic appears ordered and is easy to follow.
For larger processes, apply these best practices to consider what is most important in your graphic. Show only the integral elements, ideas, groups, teams, process steps, positions, etc. When you have limited space on a slide or on a page, you don’t want to use a small font or hundreds of arrows and lines that will only frustrate your audience. However, if you need to show all the steps, consider breaking the graphic up onto different slides or pages. Display the large graphic once (with the best practices of organization and order applied) as the overview graphic, and then highlight the various areas on separate pages and slides to make the information easier to digest.
Organization and order create consistency in your graphic and consistency breeds trust in your audience. Follow these rules and your graphic will be clear and communicative and your audience will understand your slide—and you will be the winner!
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