Visuals Matter (And Quad Charts Can Be Your Best Friend)

Reports should help the readers understand the "what" and the "why", and I believe strongly that proper visuals can enhance a report/analysis/presentation/etc.Let’s look at an example. Below is a table showing 2012 and 2011 unit sales.

Although this table presents the relevant information, I feel it is an inefficient way of representing the data. The reader will have to review each row to determine volume and growth. Although we could aid the reader by applying sorting to the table, we are still asking the reader to process information that requires way more effort than is needed. The human brain processes visual information up to 60,000 times faster than text – we process and interpret pictures much more efficiently. So instead of summarizing the data in a table, we could summarize them in something like this:

This bar chart is a standard way of summarizing information in reports. In my opinion it is superior to the tabular format. Rather than review each row line by line and then going back and forth to do any sort of comparisons, I can quickly see which branches are growing and can more easily compare the branches in terms of volume. So mission accomplished? Maybe. But I feel that if I am a manager trying to compare the performances of these 10 branches, then I will want to be able to figure out which ones I need to focus on. I feel the following chart would be an even better way of reviewing the data:

The quad chart above is designed to focus the reader’s attention to the most important aspects of the data based on the objectives of the report. In this case, the chart groups the branches based on their share of total revenue and their growth. By grouping them in this manner I can quickly see that there are three larger branches with lackluster growth, and considering their relative sizes compared to the other branches these really require more immediate attention. Rather than try to scale this in my head with the bar chart the quad chart does the heavy lifting for me.

The moral of this post is to always use visuals instead of text in presenting data when possible. But in using visuals, it is important to understand the objective of your readers. This knowledge will help design the most impactful visual format in which to present the data. In my opinion, quad charts are one such format that I prefer to use whenever possible to focus the reader’s attention on the good, the bad and the ugly in relation to his/her objective. I prefer to let the chart do the work so that the reader can focus their attention on what matters most. I definitely recommend incorporating this into your regular reporting and see for yourself whether it aids how you consume your business’ data.