Does Your Company’s Graph, Poll or Chart Need a Makeover?


Make your visual aids more simple and easy-to-use.

Don’t you want to get rid of that bowl cut your friend has been sporting since 6th grade? Sometimes visual aids, like people, need a makeover. Among its many benefits, makeovers can give an unsightly graph a quick touch up, get rid of a poll’s unappealing colors or clear out a chart’s numerical clutter. The whole point of the makeover is to try and make what you have better than what it was before.

It is very important for businesses to make their visual aids very simple and easy-to-use so that audiences instantly understand the reason for them. If the visual aids are not easily understood companies risk having their audiences both miss the message and become alienated.

Get Your Message Across

The inspiration for this blog came as I was reading the daily news online. When I landed on the newsweek homepage, my eyes were drawn to a poll graph that asked whether I was or was not in support of the US bailout plan.

newsweek1rev1

Newsweek Visual Aid - A Poll on the US Bailout

On the poll, I was able to either a.) drag the tab to the right in agreement with the bailout under the header “signal,” or b.) drag the tab to the left in disagreement with the bailout under the header “noise.” Once I dragged my tab to either the “signal” or “noise” side and submitted my response, I would be taken to a results page.

The initial problem with this poll is that the viewer might not have immediately known what “signal” or “noise” meant. When I submitted my answer, I was unsure whether I had voted in support of the bailout or whether I had voted against it. The fact that I was unsure of what I was voting for almost made me refrain from hitting “submit” altogether, but as an online marketer my curiosity was piqued.

Ironically, only after I had submitted my answer and been taken to the results page was the meaning of “signal” and “noise” finally explained. I would have much preferred to understand what I was voting for with a simple “yes” or “no” before I ended up voting for an incorrect position… and yes, yours truly did indeed vote incorrectly.

Newsweek Poll Results On the US Bailout

Newsweek Poll Results On the US Bailout

Per the above image, the results page also featured a single bar colored-in to indicate how most people had voted. Grey was used to color in the “noise” section and red was used to color in the “signal” section, but what did it mean? Because the red “signal” section filled most of the bar, one could reach the conclusion that more people voted for “signal”; however, because the tab was shown closer to the “noise” section, one could also interpret the opposite and conclude more people voted for “noise.”

The fact that I did not know what I was voting for and did not know what the results were was a huge problem. My individual response to the poll did not correctly represent my position on whether I supported the bailout or not. Because I answered the poll incorrectly, I wonder how many others out there have also answered incorrectly. Can we as an audience even trust this poll to begin with?

Complexity Is Not Creativity

Newsweek could make some quick and easy adjustments to make their visual aid poll more effective. Instead of using “signal” and “noise” to mean “yes” and “no” respectively, Newsweek could use more straightforward communication to ensure its audience submits correctly. In the end, not using “yes” and “no” to clearly label the poll can really hurt the connection with your audience and your results.

In the results section, Newsweek could make the bar graph easier to understand by featuring percentages: such as, 54% of respondents voted for the bailout and 46% voted against it. By featuring a visual aid without clear numbers, Newsweek alienated audience members and made it more difficult to get the intended message across.

According to former GE CEO Jack Welch, keeping things simple is one of the keys to successful business, “simple messages travel faster, simpler designs reach the market faster and the elimination of clutter allows faster decision making.”

Complexity is not necessarily creativity. If your visual aid is not simple enough for a child to understand, it may be in need of a full-blown makeover.

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