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A BUSINESS GUIDE
TO VISUAL COMMUNICATION
A COLUMN FIVE COMPANY
Your Company’s Visual Language
10 Tips for Design
Design Tools Available
WHY WORDS ALONE
AREN’T ENOUGH
As humans, we are biologically wired to process the world visually. We
understand images instantly—long before we learn the language to
describe them. That is why visual communication is the most powerful
medium for transferring volumes of information. In a world of exponential
information growth, we crave content that is efficient, engaging and easy
to synthesize. Thus, communication as a whole, both in media and the
enterprise, is becoming increasingly visual. But successful content is not
simply created from words and pictures thrown together. It is crafted with
intent, understanding and a solid framework. This guide will show you
why visual communication works—and how to make it work for you.
TABLE OF
CONTENTS
01
02
03
WHY OUR BRAINS LOVE VISUALS
The Value of Visualization
The Science
4
5
6FIND THE STORY IN YOUR DATA
Give Context
Show, Don’t Tell
Dos and Don’ts of Data Visualization
7
8
9
DESIGNING YOUR CONTENT
12
13
14
3
11
3
Through the visual system, the human brain quickly recognizes, stores and
recalls images, seamlessly and subconsciously cementing ideas in long-term
memory. This active response has always helped us remember vital
information for survival: fire is hot, lions are scary and mangoes are delicious.
Today, our concerns are less primal, but navigating our dense media
landscape is equally daunting. Using visualization to synthesize ideas is not
only an effective medium, it’s the type of communication our brains crave.
WHY OUR BRAINS
LOVE VISUALS
AVERAGE CONSUMER
ATTENTION SPAN
= 8 SECONDS
*National Center for Biotechnology Information,
U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Associated Press
4
APPEAL
Well-designed information is stimulating, attractive
and engaging. These qualities pique interest even
before information is processed. Aesthetics are not
superficial; they are how you get people’s attention.
COMPREHENSION
The brain is pre-wired to automatically
interpret relationships between objects,
allowing for instant comprehension with
minimal effort. Representing these
relationships visually, as opposed to
merely describing them, means that your
message is understood quickly, clearly
and with significantly greater joy.
RETENTION
Visualizations trigger us to pull
information from our long-term memory,
allowing for rapid connections to already
stored information, which help to cement
the concept in the brain.
You may prioritize these values, based on your
specific communication objectives.
THE VALUE OF
VISUALIZATION
We can break down the efficacy of visualization into
three core areas of value: appeal, comprehension and
retention.
Editorial
Marketing
Academic/Scientific
5
O R I E N TAT I O N
S I Z ES H A P E
H U E
Our brain gathers information through
pre-attentive processing of visual cues in our
environment, which we unconsciously absorb
and filter—within 250 milliseconds.
Notice that your eye is naturally drawn to
these variations on the left.
THE SCIENCE
WATCH A VIDEO ON THE
VALUE OF VISUALIZATION.
6
FIND THE STORY
IN YOUR DATA
TRENDS
CORRELATIONS OUTLIERS
COMPARISONS HIERARCHY ANATOMY
CHRONOLOGY PROCESSES GEOGRAPHY
Comb through your data to find opportunities for visualization.
Look for relationships in your information, such as:
Whereas using language to explain these concepts would be lengthy and
difficult to understand, visualization can provide instant clarity.
Certain elements will help serve your story. In business,
it is common to use data comparisons to uncover
interesting and useful insights, such as:
7
BE AS SUCCINCT AS POSSIBLE.
The more simply you can tell your story,
the more impact it will have.
Remember: Audience attention spans
are limited, and they are often looking
for an excuse to check out.
Effective data visualization relies on not just the type of information visualized,
but the amount. It is a delicate balance between providing comprehensive data
that supports your story and providing more granular data that gives more
specific insight.
Additionally, it is important to provide sufficient context to help frame your data.
You don’t have to tell the entire story, nor do you have to spoonfeed insights.
But you should provide enough color to make your data meaningful and guide
readers to the appropriate conclusion.
GIVE CONTEXT
8
SHOW, DON’T TELL
In the enterprise, our decisions are increasingly data-driven,
so it follows that much of our communication must include that
data. It is vital to understand how to best communicate this
data in a way that is digestible, accurate and meaningful.
THE TRUE VALUE OF DATA VISUALIZATION
LIES IN ITS ABILITY TO HELP YOU SHOW—
NOT JUST TELL—YOUR STORY.
...a more comprehensive data set shows a
different story; that increase is minor compared
to the significant drop the year before.
Although this chart shows an
impressive 100% increase in sales...
ISOLATING DATA
CAN BE MISLEADING.
20112010
$1M
$2M
$3M
$4M
2012 2013
$1M
$2M
2012 2013
9
DOS AND
DON’TS OF DATA
VISUALIZATION
1 | SELECT THE CORRECT VISUALIZATION FOR YOUR DATA TYPE:
TIME-SERIES PART-TO-WHOLE
NOMINAL
COMPARISON
2 | PRESENT DATA ACCURATELY:
YES
YES
NO
NO
3 | FOLLOW BEST PRACTICES FOR EACH VISUALIZATION:
Visualizations are highly effective, but only if they are
accurate. Not only does misinformation corrupt your
narrative; it threatens your reputation. When including
data visualizations, make sure you:
Space between bars should be roughly 1/2 the bar width.
2012 20122013 20132011 2011
JAN FEB MAR
$500
$550
$450
$600
JAN FEB MAR
$500
$0
$1,000
1 0
DO YOU KNOW THE THREE WAYS A BAR
CHART CAN BE ORDERED CORRECTLY?
FOR MORE DATA VISUALIZATION
DOS AND DON’TS, CHECK OUT:
ALPHABETICALLY
BY VALUE
SEQUENTIALLY
DONA WONG
STEPHEN FEW
COLUMN FIVE
1 1
DESIGNING
YOUR
CONTENT
Even the best story and the most compelling data
visualization can be jeopardized by sloppy design.
Good design is vital to creating a polished piece that
conveys your message effectively. Design is the hook
(the appeal) that draws readers in.
GOOD DESIGN SHOULD BE:
Overall style should be similar for all
collateral produced.
CONSISTENT
Readers should be able to navigate
content easily.
CLEAR
Visuals should be attractive and reflect tone
and subject matter.
ENGAGING
1 2
When you communicate visually, you are
communicating in many ways, not only in the
content you present, but how you
present it. Everything you design is a
reflection of your business, which is why
adhering to a consistent visual style is vital
to establishing and preserving your brand
identity. A visual language covers aspects of
design that are used in visual content,
including:
ICONOGRAPHY
TYPOGRAPHYCOLOR
TEMPLATES
Life Expectancy in World 's Most Populous Nations
Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et
malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Cras laoreet risus et
tellus fermentum congue. Sit amet orci tortor.
LIFE EXPECTANCY
SOURCE: The News
HOVER FOR DETAILS
CHN
0
40
20
60
80
IND USA IDN BRA PAK
NIGERIA
MALE 49.5
MALE FEMALE
TYPOGRAPHY
HEADER
Futura Today, Demi Bold, 25 pt,
all caps, letterspacing 75,
black
SOURCE
Futura Today, Normal, 12 pt,
50% gray
All caps, letterspacing 50
SUBHEADER
Futura Today, Demi Bold, 14 pt,
black
CHATTER
Futura Today, Light, 14 pt,
18 pt leading, black
6-Line maximum, 60-character
line length maximum
AXIS VALUES
Futura Today, Normal, 10 pt,
20% gray
AXIS CATEGORIES
Futura Today, Normal, 12 pt,
80% gray
In some instances, font size can
be reduced to 8 pt for print and
10 pt for web, but should never
be smaller.
CHART AND VISUALIZATION TYPES
YOU CAN THINK OF IT AS A NECESSARY
EXTENSION OF YOUR BRAND’S STYLE
GUIDE, DEFINING HOW INFORMATION
IS VISUALIZED AND PRESENTED.
YOUR
COMPANY’S
VISUAL
LANGUAGE
1 3
1 | COLOR
Use no more than five colors in a single
layout. Color should be used sparingly to
highlight important information.
2 | TYPOGRAPHY
All fonts should be legible and
appropriate for the communication style.
9 | PROPORTION
The eye can be deceiving; make sure
items are appropriately sized in data
visualizations so as not to skew data.
10 | SIMPLICITY
Avoid unnecessary design, including 3D
charts, ornamental illustration or
extraneous elements.
7 | ICONOGRAPHY
Icons should be simple, easy to
understand and universal; they’re meant to
enhance comprehension, never distract.
8 | DATA
Don’t overwhelm the reader with multiple
graphs of single data points when one
combined will suffice.
5 | SPACE
Keep significant negative space. When
too much information is in a layout,
messaging becomes cluttered and
incoherent.
6 | ILLUSTRATION
Illustration should match tone and subject
matter. Only include if it enhances the
content.
3 | LAYOUT
Present content in a way that guides
readers through in a logical hierarchy.
Aligning the elements in a layout with
each other will help maintain consistency.
4 | CALLOUTS
Use callouts sparingly to highlight only
key information.
For non-designers, creating good-looking
visual content can be a challenge.
Seemingly minimal design issues
can drastically affect the quality of your
communication. Pay attention to these
fundamentals to ensure your message
doesn’t get lost.
10 TIPS
FOR DESIGN
1 4
The traditional tools and design programs available
are incomplete, challenging to master or limited in
their aesthetic. Visualization software is an emerging
field, providing better design tools that are easier
to use.
High Cost/
Technical
Expertise
Low Cost/
Technical
Expertise
High-Quality
Information Design
Low-Quality
Information Design
DESIGN TOOLS
AVAILABLE
VISUALIZATION
SOFTWARE
BEAUTIFUL
INFORMATION
DESIGN FOR ALL
PRESENTATION
SOFTWARE
CHARTING
LIBRARIES
DESIGN
SOFTWARE
BUSINESS
INTELLIGENCE
TOOLS
Column Five is an industry-leading visual communication agency,
specializing in infographic design and data visualization, with offices in
Newport Beach, California, and Brooklyn, New York. The company was
founded in 2009 by Ross Crooks, Jason Lankow, and Josh Ritchie,
professors of Visualization of Information at Columbia University and
authors of Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling (Wiley, 2012).
Visage, a Column Five company, was created because we believe
that beautiful data visualization should be available to anyone, not just
organizations that can afford design agency premiums. Our unique SaaS
application transforms the uninspired data in your reports into beautiful,
branded visualizations that make your message more impactful—and
make your work look good.

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A Business Guide to Visual Communication

  • 1. A BUSINESS GUIDE TO VISUAL COMMUNICATION A COLUMN FIVE COMPANY
  • 2. Your Company’s Visual Language 10 Tips for Design Design Tools Available WHY WORDS ALONE AREN’T ENOUGH As humans, we are biologically wired to process the world visually. We understand images instantly—long before we learn the language to describe them. That is why visual communication is the most powerful medium for transferring volumes of information. In a world of exponential information growth, we crave content that is efficient, engaging and easy to synthesize. Thus, communication as a whole, both in media and the enterprise, is becoming increasingly visual. But successful content is not simply created from words and pictures thrown together. It is crafted with intent, understanding and a solid framework. This guide will show you why visual communication works—and how to make it work for you. TABLE OF CONTENTS 01 02 03 WHY OUR BRAINS LOVE VISUALS The Value of Visualization The Science 4 5 6FIND THE STORY IN YOUR DATA Give Context Show, Don’t Tell Dos and Don’ts of Data Visualization 7 8 9 DESIGNING YOUR CONTENT 12 13 14 3 11
  • 3. 3 Through the visual system, the human brain quickly recognizes, stores and recalls images, seamlessly and subconsciously cementing ideas in long-term memory. This active response has always helped us remember vital information for survival: fire is hot, lions are scary and mangoes are delicious. Today, our concerns are less primal, but navigating our dense media landscape is equally daunting. Using visualization to synthesize ideas is not only an effective medium, it’s the type of communication our brains crave. WHY OUR BRAINS LOVE VISUALS AVERAGE CONSUMER ATTENTION SPAN = 8 SECONDS *National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Associated Press
  • 4. 4 APPEAL Well-designed information is stimulating, attractive and engaging. These qualities pique interest even before information is processed. Aesthetics are not superficial; they are how you get people’s attention. COMPREHENSION The brain is pre-wired to automatically interpret relationships between objects, allowing for instant comprehension with minimal effort. Representing these relationships visually, as opposed to merely describing them, means that your message is understood quickly, clearly and with significantly greater joy. RETENTION Visualizations trigger us to pull information from our long-term memory, allowing for rapid connections to already stored information, which help to cement the concept in the brain. You may prioritize these values, based on your specific communication objectives. THE VALUE OF VISUALIZATION We can break down the efficacy of visualization into three core areas of value: appeal, comprehension and retention. Editorial Marketing Academic/Scientific
  • 5. 5 O R I E N TAT I O N S I Z ES H A P E H U E Our brain gathers information through pre-attentive processing of visual cues in our environment, which we unconsciously absorb and filter—within 250 milliseconds. Notice that your eye is naturally drawn to these variations on the left. THE SCIENCE WATCH A VIDEO ON THE VALUE OF VISUALIZATION.
  • 6. 6 FIND THE STORY IN YOUR DATA TRENDS CORRELATIONS OUTLIERS COMPARISONS HIERARCHY ANATOMY CHRONOLOGY PROCESSES GEOGRAPHY Comb through your data to find opportunities for visualization. Look for relationships in your information, such as: Whereas using language to explain these concepts would be lengthy and difficult to understand, visualization can provide instant clarity. Certain elements will help serve your story. In business, it is common to use data comparisons to uncover interesting and useful insights, such as:
  • 7. 7 BE AS SUCCINCT AS POSSIBLE. The more simply you can tell your story, the more impact it will have. Remember: Audience attention spans are limited, and they are often looking for an excuse to check out. Effective data visualization relies on not just the type of information visualized, but the amount. It is a delicate balance between providing comprehensive data that supports your story and providing more granular data that gives more specific insight. Additionally, it is important to provide sufficient context to help frame your data. You don’t have to tell the entire story, nor do you have to spoonfeed insights. But you should provide enough color to make your data meaningful and guide readers to the appropriate conclusion. GIVE CONTEXT
  • 8. 8 SHOW, DON’T TELL In the enterprise, our decisions are increasingly data-driven, so it follows that much of our communication must include that data. It is vital to understand how to best communicate this data in a way that is digestible, accurate and meaningful. THE TRUE VALUE OF DATA VISUALIZATION LIES IN ITS ABILITY TO HELP YOU SHOW— NOT JUST TELL—YOUR STORY. ...a more comprehensive data set shows a different story; that increase is minor compared to the significant drop the year before. Although this chart shows an impressive 100% increase in sales... ISOLATING DATA CAN BE MISLEADING. 20112010 $1M $2M $3M $4M 2012 2013 $1M $2M 2012 2013
  • 9. 9 DOS AND DON’TS OF DATA VISUALIZATION 1 | SELECT THE CORRECT VISUALIZATION FOR YOUR DATA TYPE: TIME-SERIES PART-TO-WHOLE NOMINAL COMPARISON 2 | PRESENT DATA ACCURATELY: YES YES NO NO 3 | FOLLOW BEST PRACTICES FOR EACH VISUALIZATION: Visualizations are highly effective, but only if they are accurate. Not only does misinformation corrupt your narrative; it threatens your reputation. When including data visualizations, make sure you: Space between bars should be roughly 1/2 the bar width. 2012 20122013 20132011 2011 JAN FEB MAR $500 $550 $450 $600 JAN FEB MAR $500 $0 $1,000
  • 10. 1 0 DO YOU KNOW THE THREE WAYS A BAR CHART CAN BE ORDERED CORRECTLY? FOR MORE DATA VISUALIZATION DOS AND DON’TS, CHECK OUT: ALPHABETICALLY BY VALUE SEQUENTIALLY DONA WONG STEPHEN FEW COLUMN FIVE
  • 11. 1 1 DESIGNING YOUR CONTENT Even the best story and the most compelling data visualization can be jeopardized by sloppy design. Good design is vital to creating a polished piece that conveys your message effectively. Design is the hook (the appeal) that draws readers in. GOOD DESIGN SHOULD BE: Overall style should be similar for all collateral produced. CONSISTENT Readers should be able to navigate content easily. CLEAR Visuals should be attractive and reflect tone and subject matter. ENGAGING
  • 12. 1 2 When you communicate visually, you are communicating in many ways, not only in the content you present, but how you present it. Everything you design is a reflection of your business, which is why adhering to a consistent visual style is vital to establishing and preserving your brand identity. A visual language covers aspects of design that are used in visual content, including: ICONOGRAPHY TYPOGRAPHYCOLOR TEMPLATES Life Expectancy in World 's Most Populous Nations Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Cras laoreet risus et tellus fermentum congue. Sit amet orci tortor. LIFE EXPECTANCY SOURCE: The News HOVER FOR DETAILS CHN 0 40 20 60 80 IND USA IDN BRA PAK NIGERIA MALE 49.5 MALE FEMALE TYPOGRAPHY HEADER Futura Today, Demi Bold, 25 pt, all caps, letterspacing 75, black SOURCE Futura Today, Normal, 12 pt, 50% gray All caps, letterspacing 50 SUBHEADER Futura Today, Demi Bold, 14 pt, black CHATTER Futura Today, Light, 14 pt, 18 pt leading, black 6-Line maximum, 60-character line length maximum AXIS VALUES Futura Today, Normal, 10 pt, 20% gray AXIS CATEGORIES Futura Today, Normal, 12 pt, 80% gray In some instances, font size can be reduced to 8 pt for print and 10 pt for web, but should never be smaller. CHART AND VISUALIZATION TYPES YOU CAN THINK OF IT AS A NECESSARY EXTENSION OF YOUR BRAND’S STYLE GUIDE, DEFINING HOW INFORMATION IS VISUALIZED AND PRESENTED. YOUR COMPANY’S VISUAL LANGUAGE
  • 13. 1 3 1 | COLOR Use no more than five colors in a single layout. Color should be used sparingly to highlight important information. 2 | TYPOGRAPHY All fonts should be legible and appropriate for the communication style. 9 | PROPORTION The eye can be deceiving; make sure items are appropriately sized in data visualizations so as not to skew data. 10 | SIMPLICITY Avoid unnecessary design, including 3D charts, ornamental illustration or extraneous elements. 7 | ICONOGRAPHY Icons should be simple, easy to understand and universal; they’re meant to enhance comprehension, never distract. 8 | DATA Don’t overwhelm the reader with multiple graphs of single data points when one combined will suffice. 5 | SPACE Keep significant negative space. When too much information is in a layout, messaging becomes cluttered and incoherent. 6 | ILLUSTRATION Illustration should match tone and subject matter. Only include if it enhances the content. 3 | LAYOUT Present content in a way that guides readers through in a logical hierarchy. Aligning the elements in a layout with each other will help maintain consistency. 4 | CALLOUTS Use callouts sparingly to highlight only key information. For non-designers, creating good-looking visual content can be a challenge. Seemingly minimal design issues can drastically affect the quality of your communication. Pay attention to these fundamentals to ensure your message doesn’t get lost. 10 TIPS FOR DESIGN
  • 14. 1 4 The traditional tools and design programs available are incomplete, challenging to master or limited in their aesthetic. Visualization software is an emerging field, providing better design tools that are easier to use. High Cost/ Technical Expertise Low Cost/ Technical Expertise High-Quality Information Design Low-Quality Information Design DESIGN TOOLS AVAILABLE VISUALIZATION SOFTWARE BEAUTIFUL INFORMATION DESIGN FOR ALL PRESENTATION SOFTWARE CHARTING LIBRARIES DESIGN SOFTWARE BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE TOOLS
  • 15. Column Five is an industry-leading visual communication agency, specializing in infographic design and data visualization, with offices in Newport Beach, California, and Brooklyn, New York. The company was founded in 2009 by Ross Crooks, Jason Lankow, and Josh Ritchie, professors of Visualization of Information at Columbia University and authors of Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling (Wiley, 2012). Visage, a Column Five company, was created because we believe that beautiful data visualization should be available to anyone, not just organizations that can afford design agency premiums. Our unique SaaS application transforms the uninspired data in your reports into beautiful, branded visualizations that make your message more impactful—and make your work look good.