How can we visualise our insight for maximum impact?

Want to make your insight communications more engaging, easier to understand and more persuasive? Think like a designer.

Napoleon Bonaparte said that ‘a good sketch is better than a long speech’, but do you know why that’s true? Why are visuals important when communicating key messages?

We are all visually wired. Almost 50% of your brain is involved in visual processing. This means we can get the sense of a visual scene in less than one-tenth of a second.

Visuals are more engaging. Research shows that colour visuals increase our willingness to read by 80%.

Pictures are easier to understand. Consider, for example, IKEA assembly instructions. Research shows that people following directions with text and illustrations do more than 3 times better than people following directions without illustrations.

More persuasive. A study showed that 50% of the audience were persuaded by a purely verbal presentation, versus 67% of the audience who were persuaded by the verbal presentation that had accompanying visuals.

Here at the IMA, we believe that when it comes to designing the look and feel of communications and data visualisations, Insight professionals need to ‘think like a designer’.

‘If you’re navigating a dense information jungle, coming across a beautiful graphic or a lovely data visualisation is a relief … like a clearing in the jungle.’

David McCandless, Data Journalist and Author of Information is Beautiful

David McCandless believes we all have a ‘dormant design literacy’, simply as a result of the media we are constantly surrounded by in today’s digital world. What he means is that we all have the ability to produce beautiful and impactful data visualisations; we don’t have to be artists or designers. There are simple changes we can make to the way we present data visually that will make it easier for our audience. Our aim here is to make our key messages stand out.

The complication is that as Insight professionals we are not artists or graphic designers, and we wouldn’t have the time to spend hours creating masterpieces even if we were. So, how can we make our visual communications look good and have impact?

It doesn’t have to be complicated; we can have huge impact just by using simple shapes to communicate our ideas, and stripping back our data visualisations to ensure the key messages leap off the page.

Here are our top tips on how to think like an Insight designer:

Use simple shapes. We don’t have to be skilled artists or designers to create highly impactful visuals to communicate our ideas or insights. Basic shapes can be sketched with pen and paper, or added to a text-heavy document to help describe the shape of your data, business, customer groups, marketplace and so on. For example; triangles, pyramids, squares, 4-box models, circles, Venn diagrams, mind maps and cycles.

Don’t be afraid of white space. Every single element we add to a page or screen takes up cognitive load on the part of our audience. Less is more.

Declutter your data visualisations. Be aware of the unnecessary clutter that our tools, such as Excel, automatically add to charts. Evaluate whether you really need the borders, gridlines, data markers, trailing zeros, tick marks, diagonal text and legends by considering whether they are essential to communicate your key messages. If not, get rid of them.

Build slowly. If you are going to be presenting your chart to your audience in person, take the opportunity to tell the story of your data step by step. Show the axes first, then each data set one by one. Consider using just one chart to tell the story of your insight findings, highlight the relevant data points as you walk through your story.

Use colour consistently and sparingly. Avoid a rainbow of colours, instead pick out your key data points in a bold colour and leave everything else grey.


Remember, we are all visually wired, so next time you prepare to communicate your insights, try out some of our top tips. Unleash your inner designer and make your insight communications more engaging, easier to understand and more persuasive.


If you have another 5 minutes... 

'Visual Communication for Insight teams' is the 28th Insight leader guide now available on the IMA website. If your company is a member of the IMA, and if you have an online account with us, you can read it now by clicking here. Please remember that you need to be logged in to see member content.

Visual Communication for Insight teams is also available as a 1-day workshop, so please contact us if you think that your team could benefit.