Tim Degner, Lead Design Strategist at Nike, draws from 14 years of design experience to tell us how marketers can use data visualization to improve presentations and communicate more effectively with teams across their organization.
Tim joins the BMA Colorado Nov. 8 for our Evening Brew, What Nike Can Teach Us About Visualizing Data. Learn more and register here.
What are your top tips for marketers to use effective data visualization?
1. Keep it simple. Don’t overwhelm your audience.
2. When possible round or simplify numbers. For example, $546,331 becomes $546k, and 29.6% could probably be 30%. It’s cleaner and easier for everyone to consume.
3. Use fast facts or a "by-the-numbers" approach. People love simple soundbites they can remember. I’d recommend starting and ending your presentations with this approach.
Do you have favorite tools for data visualization?
Adobe Illustrator is certainly my weapon of choice. I can’t imagine designing without it. However, a close no. 2 is Apple’s Keynote or Microsoft PowerPoint. Both are great tools for non-designers. But honestly, the best tool is old school pen and paper. Playing around with ideas and not getting locked into a default bar graph is the way to go. Exploring the data with a scratch paper or post it note is a great way to start. That’s where and how I usually start my process.
What role can color play?
Color is ultra important. People tend to use too much color and that misses the point of communication. It’s sort of like cooking with too many ingredients or, worse, too many flavors. Use a limited color palette.
Marketers should also consider colorblind individuals. Red-Green Colorblindness is the most common — especially for men (it’s around 10%). Unfortunately they can’t distinguish these two colors. For that reason I tend to avoid mixing colors or having color be the distinguisher. I prefer using shades of the same color utilizing the transparency feature or values of that color (100%, 70%, 50%). If that isn’t possible I’ll use different shapes, for example, a green check, yellow dot and red no symbol instead of RGY dots.
Are there any rules of thumb for using copy in presentations?
Less text is always better. Reduce the text. No one wants to read these days. Everyone is way too busy.
Presentations need to be simple and direct. Often text gets in the way and slows communication down. A lot of text in presentations is redundant or unnecessary. Often, I do a great deal of wordsmithing. Typically, I do a lot of trimming titles, streamlining sentences, pruning paragraphs. Nike loves good alliteration, and sometimes I can’t help myself — it slips out of me. Reducing the words speeds up communication and increases your audience’s understanding.
How do you select the type of charts to use to present data?
I recommend testing and exploring at least five different approaches or “views.” Sketch things out first. Don’t stress out about this part — the quicker, the better. It should be fluid and fun.
Sometimes I’ll go back and redraw my favorite options. I’m typically given the data at the last minute, so many of my sketches, wireframes or mock-ups don’t have real data until the very end. Once I have my five sketches I’ll start to have a hunch on which one is the best direction to move forward with, but often I run with two or three versions of the same data. Many times I let my audience determine which view is best for their needs. It might seem like more work, but I work with a variety of teams and each team cares about different metrics and KPIs. This results in different views of the same data set but from different points of view.
What common pitfalls lead to bad design?
Too much data. I see it on a daily basis even at Nike and other big brands I’ve worked for. People try to put too much on one slide or one page and communication is hindered because of this.
Most of the time it’s too much text. I see paragraphs that could be sentences. I see sentences that could be lists and lists that could be icons. That’s typically my thought process. It’s okay to break up that overwhelming slide into a couple of slides. That’s the secret in good storytelling: one message (point or idea) per slide, and then move on to the next page. Don’t overwhelm your audience.
Do you have any examples of great data viz/data storytelling you’ve seen brands use that you'd like to share?
There’s a lot of great design out there, and we see it on daily basis — a vast majority of it on our beloved phones. I do love Fast Company and Wired Magazine, and pretty much anything that Apple, Tesla, Google, Uber, Airbnb or even JetBlue does these days is probably very well crafted.
There’s a special place in my heart for city transit & airport maps. They know how to use color correctly. They love icons because their audience is often international. There’s not a lot of text because travelers are in a hurry, so text almost becomes secondary. They give you all the information at once. The map is loaded with data yet it communicates quickly and universally. This approach to communication is certainly what I strive for as an Information Designer.
Join BMA Colorado and our friends from the Digital Analytics Association as we welcome Tim to our Evening Brew Nov. 8, What Nike Can Teach Us About Visualizing Data.