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Two Secrets of Successful Information Graphics
An information graphic is any graphic that clarifies and/or explains. We see them everyday. Newspapers show us what the new billion dollar plane looks like. Web sites use visuals to quickly communicate stock values. Magazines illustrate how to properly perform an exercise. PowerPoint charts report our company's revenue.
For information graphics to be successful, there are two criteria that must be achieved: acceptance and communication. They are contingent on one another. Each affects the other. If the graphic properly communicates the right information, it is more likely to be accepted. If the graphic is accepted, communication of the intended message is more likely to occur. Each is necessary for the other's success.
Communicating the intended messages is imperative. However, if the audience does not accept the graphic (or its source), effective communication does not occur.
Criterion A: Graphic Acceptance is achieved if:
Credible and Factual
For example, a mall kiosk contains a map that has not been updated with the replacement of a jewelry store by sporting goods store. Anyone who uses the map to find the jewelry store will be frustrated, the validity of the map is questioned, and the mall-goer's perception of the mall's ability to serve their needs is negatively affected.
Or take the case of a trial support firm tasked with creating illustrations of mechanisms, machines, and processes for a patent law case. It is imperative that graphics are accurate so that the opposing team will not be able to call the visuals into question by revealing false or misleading data, thus undermining the courts' opinion of the client's honesty and trustworthiness.
Even if the information graphic communicates fictitious concepts or entities, the data presented must be perceived as factual within the constructs of the conjured world or scenario. For example, imagine a comic book reader's confusion and eventual loss of trust if suddenly, without explanation, their favorite hero's name changed, their costume changed color again and again, and their history was inconsistent from month to month. If this were incongruent with the fabricated comic world, the reader would grow distrustful of the comic's creator. In order to effectively tell the story, all things must stay true to the limits established in the world created within the pages. Otherwise, the reader will feel betrayed.
Several variables that affect the clarity of communication must be taken into consideration:
Responses to these variables stipulate what should be included and how to render it. For example, if a graphic is to be projected onto a 10' screen, text labels and graphic elements must be sized so that it is easily read from a distance. If graphic elements or labels are too small, the information graphic may fail to accomplish its objective. Imagine spending thousands of dollars on the conceptualizing and rendering an information graphic only to have the intended audience complain that they couldn't understand it because the text was too hard to read.
Best Buy, a national home and office technology and appliance retail chain, was once approached by a gaming company to sell a PC game called "Open Heart: Virtual Surgery." The proposed box design had only an embossed 3D-rendered human heart on the cover. Best Buy's new product division declined, sighting that the box cover was not descriptive enough. Potential buyers would not understand the premise of the game and the ambiguity would lead to a "no buy" decision. The box was resubmitted with imagery of the open-heart surgery being performed and the product was accepted. Best Buy's view is that the more descriptive and understandable the imagery, the more likely the product is to sell.
The concept of better graphics affects the government sector as well. In one instance, a government evaluator of a presentation given by a large company specifically stated in their review that the presentation's use of clip art (flat, "canned," usually uninspiring graphics) was a detriment to their proposal and led to a decision not to buy.
Presenters at professional conferences and speaking events who present content without compelling visuals are typically evaluated lower than those that do. Using professionally rendered graphics not only increases audience attention, understanding, and retention of the presented material, but also tells the audience that they are important enough to warrant extensive preparation and development.
Joan Miller, a proposal manager, taught a proposal writing course for more than 10 years. The class began with students forming source selection teams to evaluate two proposals and choose a winner based on the established evaluation criteria. Proposal A was attractive, well written, and contained a large number of professionally rendered, visually appealing graphics, but the proposal was not compliant with the evaluation criteria. Proposal B was not well written and used a smaller number of dense, difficult to read graphics, but was compliant. If the source selection teams took the extra time needed to understand Proposal B's graphics, they would find that the graphics suitably showed the system to be built. Not surprisingly, Miller often found that Proposal A (the easy-to-read, graphically appealing proposal) received the highest grades. When asked, the students said that they were so caught up in the presentation that they failed to realize the proposal was not compliant.
Imagine receiving two competing lawn care service brochures. Lovely Lawn Care presents amateurish, clip art graphics, but these visuals sufficiently communicate their process and its effectiveness. Miracle Lawn Care presents polished, professional graphics, which also similarly communicates their process and its effectiveness. Both companies use the same process. All other variables being equal (price, availability, amiable technicians, experience, etc.), which is the better lawn care service company?
Most potential buyers would say Miracle Lawn Care is the better company. Now what if Miracle Lawn Care was more expensive than Lovely? Would clients pay more for the same service because of the professionalism and competency communicated by the polished, professional information graphics? The answer is yes. Buying decisions based on image happens all of the time. Companies sell the perception of professionalism, quality, superiority, and other attributes that persuade potential customers to buy their service or product. Much of the perception is created through the quality of their collateral materials, marketing materials, ads, Web site, business attire, office space, and anything that is customer facing. Companies know it is the overarching look of quality that significantly aids in the perception that it is a quality company. The image they work hard to create formulates your opinion of that company. Obviously, it is the company's responsibility to live up to the image it created or their efforts will be in vain.
Graphics have the power to communicate that a company is faster, stronger, better than its competition. Miracle Lawn Care instills trust and confidence in their abilities without ever speaking with potential buyers. You can do the same.
Consider the following two scenarios:
The court system is a perfect example of an industry that mitigates the potential risk of outside influences. Attorneys, aware of the damage preexisting prejudices may have, prepare special questions to weed out jurors who may cost them the win. For high profile cases, chosen jurors are often sequestered to avoid the likelihood that outside influences will affect their decisions.
Controllable elements (data accuracy, spelling, room temperature) as
well as outside
Surface and subsurface communication are tightly linked. Each affects the other. All surface and subsurface data interacts to form a cohesive picture of the presenter and their offerings to the audience. Assuming no other input, these elements combine to create the audience's lasting impression of the presenter and ultimately results in a final judgment.
Every successful information graphic must clearly communicate the author's intended messages. Intended messages are flushed out during the information gathering process. The intended messages must include clarification and/or explanation of the presented data. Additionally, successful information graphics highlight features, benefits, and discriminators. Through the use of graphic styles and techniques and selective content inclusion, the graphic then persuades the audience to agree with the presenter and arrive at the intended conclusions, which will hopefully result in the achievement of the information graphic's primary objective.
To achieve a primary objective, the information graphic must be audience focused. All surface data must convey messages that have relevance and are important to the target audience. The features, benefits, and discriminators must be compelling. No one cares that your company has a reputation for quick service unless there is a direct benefit to the audience. They take notice and begin to care if you can save them time and money, fulfill a pressing need, or reduce hassle and make their lives easier. You need the audience to care about what is presented, or the information graphic risks failure. The audience will not care if the focus is not on them and their wants and needs. Developing an information graphic that reaches the audience on this level involves research and an understanding of the target audience's desires and challenges. If you can show that your quick service will save them 30% or $14,500 per year over their current service, then they will listen and care. Solve their problem; show them the benefits they will enjoy; and help them become enthusiastic about the subject and the prospect of having, using, or implementing it.
If an information graphic is professionally rendered, audience focused, and easily communicates the necessary information to the target audience, it will elicit a positive emotional response. Audience-focused, error-free, visually appealing, clear and concise information graphics are usually enough to effectively support the goal of audience agreement and, ultimately, the primary objective.
However, unintended associations may jeopardize your graphic. For example, say you have created an information graphic for a brochure designed to sell new population tracking software. Unbeknownst to you, the audience thinks the logo for the software resembles the swastika. They become distracted, uncomfortable, and defensive. Negative emotions prevail. The audience's state of mind is negatively affected. The subsurface message failed.
Unsuccessful information graphics may communicate unintended messages to the target audience and can result in the loss of the audience's faith in the presenter's services or product. For this reason, find the most effective way to communicate the information to the target audience by doing your homework. Test your information graphic by sharing it with others—the more your test audience has in common with the target audience, the better—and ask for input. Listen carefully to their feedback. Fatal errors are often caught using this tactic. Ensure that they read the graphic as it should be read.
About the Author
Michael Parkinson is a partner at 24 Hour Company, the premier proposal graphics design firm. To learn more about proposal graphics support visit www.24hrco.com.
Michael is also a professional public speaker and visual communications trainer. He has penned several published articles and 2 books titled Billion Dollar Graphics: 3 Easy Steps to Turn Your Ideas Into Persuasive Visuals and Billion Dollar Graphics: 40 Powerful Ways to Show Your Ideas. For more information about Billion Dollar Graphics visit www.billiondollargraphics.com.
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