I know a few of you (at least) may be thinking… why the heck do we as researchers have to care about better visualization in our reports? There are 3 things I’d tell you:
Client expectations are rising. The amount of good visualization they see out in the wild is increasing. When they look at many of our reports, they are not blown away. They might even be a little bit embarrassed. Think I'm wrong? This is a legit research report slide (with info replaced, not that it matters, because you probably can’t understand it anyway). Do you like it?
2. Data Influx
The sheer amount of data out there today is insane. It’s overwhelming, even in our relatively small research studies. Clients need help with understanding, not just collecting and tabulating data. Has anyone seen this pie chart? Need I say more?
3. Internal Communication
Clients need help communicating the value of research with their peers internally, and if we were really honest with ourselves, we’d realize that our deliverables don’t always do a great job of showcasing research for many people outside the core research team.
We are great at collecting, modeling, interpreting data... but we have trouble communicating it in an engaging way for others. We often show too much, because we tend to see our value in the number of slides we have, or the number of tables we’ve arranged. Instead, we should realize that a large part of our role is to be influential communicators who create impact. Creating impact often means "less", simplifying things so people can more easily understand the problem in order to get on board with the right solution.
So, what's our solution? I think it comes down to a few important things that we need to do as individuals and research companies as a whole:
- Carve Out Creative Time: In our reporting process, we need to add some deliberate creative time (before we open up PPT and start dropping in charts) and think about the overarching story and headlines that best bring our research findings to life. Then (again, before we open up PPT), we need to spend some time creatively thinking and sketching out the best ways to visualize our data given the headlines. We need to make tough choices about what data to show, and more importantly what data not to show, in order to get our point across in the simplest way.
- Training & Resources: We need to realize that design is an important part of the researcher's toolkit. We need to train employees on design fundamentals and headline/story writing, but also realize that training alone may not cut it. We shouldn't expect a great research analyst or data scientist to be a super creative designer. They are completely different skill sets. The rigid and complex thinking that makes a analyst great conflicts with the creative thinking needed for compelling design. So, we need to find a way to work with designers that understand market research (yes, shameless plug)!
- Experiment With New Deliverables: We need to step away from PPT at times and play around with new ways of sharing our research. Simple infographics, twitter cards, and full blown motion graphic videos are great ways to make research more engaging for non-research audiences. Generally speaking, taking advantage of more digital ways of telling and sharing stories will be necessary as the way world communicates becomes more dynamic and advances into the future.