Save the day! Data visualization to the rescue
By Asha Vyas
Is your library’s financial information inviting?
We don’t often think of financial information in terms of inviting the reader into the story of our community impact. Yet, understanding financial data is a crucial part of managing, planning, and promoting our public image. One great way to help our audiences understand financial data, and other quantitative data, is to visualize it in a graphic. Especially when combined with text, graphics can be highly effective at communicating essential information and conveying observations, discoveries, and recommendations to your board, donors, staff, and the public.
Any effective graphic serves a defined purpose. A static graphic, as opposed to an interactive or dynamic graphic, is one that is designed to tell a specific story explicitly, requiring minimal interpretation or exploration from the audience. Because static graphics help people receive and understand information quickly, especially quantitative information and comparisons, they can help us to raise an alarm, trumpet a success, or recommend an action.
At Your Part-Time Controller, LLC [YPTC] we have a standard for static graphics that requires five essential elements. We refer to this set of requirements as the JD Standard in honor of a graphic designer whose work we admire. These elements take information that might be foreboding – information that takes specialized skill to understand like financial statements – and formats it visually to invite the reader into the story. These elements tune out the noise allowing the reader to quickly interpret the information.
The five essential elements are:
- Headline – succinct messaging that gets straight to the point
- Interpretation – expanded messaging that orients the reader and fills out the story
- Graphic – a visualization of quantitative information
- Credit – identifies who prepared the graphic
- Source – identifies the origin of the data being visualized
While elements one through three tell the story, elements four and five are important to build confidence, trust, and credibility with the reader. The structure of a graphic can remain the same and be adapted for different audiences or to highlight new information. Repetition of the format across graphics will familiarize the reader and helps them to understand new graphics quickly and focus on the story being told.
All the components of an effective static graphic are intentional. For example, as shown in the sample graphic below, color is used sparingly to emphasize a part of the graphic. This same color can be used in the interpretation to link a specific portion of text visually with the graphic. Balancing color with readability and consistency is helpful to make information easy to compare.
Another tip for effective static graphics is to label items directly. While legends in charts are conventional, they are often unnecessary and can demand a lot from the reader to interpret the information. Direct labels keep our focus where it’s needed most.
To determine what information to present in a graphic, consider the hierarchy of the information. What is the most important story to be told? If a reader only has a few moments to see your graphic, present it in a way that highlights the message you wish to convey. An effective headline will tell the reader the key message of the graphic. Additional time spent reading the interpretation and the graph itself will reinforce the headline.
Using static graphics to convert your story into visuals that are easy to understand and quickly inform can be a powerful tool. For help with graphics click here. For more information about this topic, click here to watch the webinar.
Asha Vyas is a Training Content Specialist with Your Part-Time Controller, LLC [YPTC]. YPTC provides customized accounting and financial management services for over 1200 nonprofits nationwide. Since 1993, YPTC has built transformative, personalized solutions based on clients’ financial needs, including cash flows, funding streams, financial concerns, and internal control challenges. YPTC is committed to educating organizations through webinars and resources that provide relevant takeaways and best practices. To learn more about YPTC and browse our content, visit www.yptc.com.