I can’t remember where I first heard this quote but it’s one of the most useful tips I’ve ever received. I regularly find myself passing this pearl of wisdom on to anyone who will listen and if you’re reading this then I want you to remember it as well.
The operating system of the human mind is highly visual. If I were to ask you to think of a pink elephant, you will likely create a kind of faint impression of a pink elephant within your mind and this impression will be very much visual rather than verbal or auditory.
However, while our minds and thoughts tend to operate visually, too often we rely solely on verbal language when communicating our ideas and this often leads to unnecessary misunderstandings.
Sketch your ideas
Before any report or data visualisation is developed, you first need to understand the requirement. How clearly that requirement can be defined plays a huge role in how effective the final product will be. Even at this early stage in our design process you can improve communication by creating images to share ideas.
Now you may be thinking that creating a visual representation of your ideas is too time consuming. However, it really doesn’t have to be and my advice here is to “sketch, sketch, sketch”. This approach was initially inspired by a presentation I saw a few years ago by Nigel Hawtin (see http://nigelhawtin.com/).
Sketching is quick and easy and you won’t become attached to your first drafts in the same way that you would if you’ve spent ages pulling a visualisation together using an IT tool. Using a pencil and paper it can take a matter of minutes to turn your ideas into images that will help both you and your audience to better understand and agree your requirements. Building on this shared understanding, your drawings can become the foundation of your design as they go through multiple iterations. Eventually you'll find them coming to life with real data as you build the final visualisation in your chosen IT tool.
I'll be honest, I can’t draw. My artistic expression is limited to scribbles and stickmen, but that’s fine. As the old Chinese proverb says “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Over the years, I’ve found my child-like sketches to be an invaluable part of my process for agreeing reporting requirements and designs.
So remember the wisdom of Steve Jobs - if you want to get your message across quickly and clearly then don’t just ask people what they want, show them what they can have.