Making Your Point with a Chart

Stretch your mind on what constitutes a chart. A great chart is simply well-packaged information that shows your viewers what you mean quickly, effectively and engagingly.The struggle to convey complicated or comparative data can be simplified in a chart.

For people addicted to Excel spreadsheets, charts look like pies or pillars. But they don't have to. Charts can be lively visual communication companions by making your point quickly and effectively.

Southwest Airlines famously launched its service with a series of print ads that featured a chart. The chart showed Southwest Airlines' fares to various cities compared to rival airlines. No further commentary or hype was needed. Message delivered and received.

Creative communicators now think of charts as more than arrays of data. They see charts as powerful message boards, backed by data points, as illustrated by the "Diamonds Were a Girl's Best Friend" chart. Both renditions contain the exact same data, but the one on the left packages that data in a much more engaging and, arguably, informative format. It is the difference between plastering data points on a page and making a point.

Charts don't always have to include "data." The illustration showing the most common causes of obesity in youth is actually a chart, or at least the beginning of a chart. It would be easy to connect data points under each "column heading" illustration to create a more traditional-looking chart, much like the chart comparing the calories in glasses of wine and cookies.

The essence of a chart isn't how much data you can cram into the square inch; it is how well you can package meaningful information to aid viewer comprehension.

Communicators overlook charts because they require thought about how to design and display information, even though a great chart can often outperform a text or a video in terms of showing what you mean. This can be invaluable in a public affairs or marketing PR campaign, where making the first impression is often the key to making an indelible impression.

Charts don't just happen. They require careful thought and good design. They don't have to be fancy or frilly. They just have to work. And if a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then a great chart can be worth even more.