circle it! …or should you?


Circle on graph.png


You’ve seen it before: a circle on a slide or graph that is meant to highlight something of note. People tend to be surprised when I express admiration towards this approach. I love that it means someone took the time to consider the data and the viewer and thought, “I’d like people to look here” or “I want to make sure my audience doesn’t miss this.” Then they took an action—adding the circle—to help ensure it.

That said, the circle is a blunt tool. It’s better than nothing: if you are facing such a time constraint that you don’t have a minute to spare for anything beyond quickly adding a circle, do it. If you do have more than a minute, however, there are other eloquent solutions you can employ. This will typically involve making changes to how you design the way the data or supporting elements are formatted. Specifically, here are a handful of circle alternatives to consider:

  • Hue: start in greyscale and then add color sparingly to data and words to garner attention. Color is often a fast, relatively easy, effective change to make. If you’d like to practice directing attention in ways other than color, check out the current challenge to design a monochromatic visual.

  • Intensity: push non-essential or less important details to the background by reducing intensity (you can achieve this by drawing transparent shapes over what you’d like to deemphasize, or lightening elements or adjusting the transparency of objects directly) and leave important parts in full intensity.

  • Thickness: increase the thickness of a border, line, or line segment (and/or decrease thickness of the others); you can also use thickness with words and numbers by sparingly bolding titles, labels, or annotations.

  • Size: people tend to associate size with importance, so in some cases it may make sense to make important elements bigger than the rest.

  • Added marks: as we saw with the circle, when we add an element, it can attract attention, and sometimes there are things we can contribute that will have that effect plus lend additional information, too. For example, add data markers and labels to points of interest, or annotate an important piece of data with the context or takeaway. The addition of this detail will help direct people to look there.

In many cases, you’ll draw on not just one, but a combination of these approaches to indicate to your audience where you’d like them to look. I used elements of each in my revamp of the graph at the onset of this post. I invite you to lend your critique and makeover, too, in the exercise clarify, critique & improve (submit your redesign to see how I tackled it). If you’d like to hear my thought process and see storytelling with data lessons illustrated through this example, premium subscribers can also watch the related video.

See you in the community!

Source: Story Telling