Infographics: The Art of Visualizing Research

A few years back, I was invited to attend a webinar designed to help us think about how to express our study results in a more visually appealing manner than the usual bar, line and pie charts and endless tables filled with numbers that one typically sees in a market research report. It sounded like a great idea until I read the synopsis, which made some grand statement about visually displaying data without showing any numbers. At the time I thought ‘Are they crazy? No numbers? They do realize that we need to defend our insights with the actual numbers revealed by the study, don’t they?’

Since then, our clients have been challenging us to submit reports that are story-telling decks. This evolution certainly makes sense to me. Our industry needed to get away from providing data dumps so that decision makers could spend less time trying to figure out how we laid out the data on a given slide and more time focusing on the key learning that would best support their business strategy. And, while building a beginning, middle and end of the story doesn’t necessarily require an artistic bent, crisp graphical representation of the story certainly helps illustrate and drive home our key findings.

So, I’ve since softened my stance on those “crazy” people from the webinar in favor of finding ways to present the numbers in an easily digestible manner that supports our findings and tells the story. But, I’m still left with a huge challenge. I’m not an artist. If you play Pictionary with me, you’re getting stick figures. So, how is a pragmatic, analytic, numbers oriented, old school guy like me supposed to come up with some creative visual designs?

Over the past couple of years, we have partnered with some graphic design firms and produced some really good work. But, I will tell you that process can be a struggle at times. We know research and they know design. Sometimes we spend countless cycles back and forth until the insight we are trying to convey readily comes across in the design. Oh, if only I were a researcher AND an artist.

It turns out that I don’t need to be both (good thing…stick figures, remember :)). At MSI, we’re taking advantage of the fact that our younger staffers have grown up in a visual world. They’ve been bombarded with imagery practically from birth. And, they’ve been using technology since before they could walk. We have found that they are better able to visualize data than our old school views.

So, as of late, we’ve been tasking our younger staff to work with us to turn our insights into art. It has been a great two-way learning process. Our younger staffers grow because they get to see how our senior staff thinks about data, tie it to our clients’ business objectives, and unfold the story to reveal actionable insights. In return, we constantly learn about new ways to visual our story telling. The results have been amazing!

In fact, at a recent client presentation of findings for a segmentation study, the CMO stopped in the middle of the session to congratulate us on the visual aspect of our presentation. Given that there was a ton of segment profile data shown on one slide, that was no small compliment. By the way, he also really liked the insights and direction we provided via our use of a relatively new segmentation technique (see my blog on Archetypal Analysis).

Having worked with both graphics design firms and with our younger staff, I am convinced that having people who are both visually inclined and who also really understand research is a huge advantage. We do not have to teach these folks anything about the research. They already get it. Thus, we get more meaningful, relevant representations of the data and thoughts we’re trying to convey in much less time.

We’d love to put this unique combination of skills to work on your behalf. Give us a shout if you’d like to see what we can do for you.


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