There's a lot of discussion today about the researcher as story-teller. Most of it has to do with the choices we make as analysts - what to focus on and what to discard; all important stuff.
Ultimately, however, we have to step up and tell those stories and good visual display is critical to that effort. Too often we fall short of effective in this area, and that's a problem. Market Researchers are fighting everyday for respect, but we'll never get it if we can't communicate the good (or bad) news we have to tell about brands and products and customers. To quote "Information Is Beautiful" author David McCandless from a recent interview in "Research:"
...everything you create now design-wise is competing with everything else that everyone ever looks at. So market research stuff is looking worse and worse as time goes by, because the web and good design are becoming more and more of a daily experience for people.
This thinking gibes with an earlier post I wrote about, which talked about how we Market Researchers are not alone. More and more we face stakeholders who are both interested and armed, not only with their innate analytic abilities and (sometimes) formal training but with readily accessible data. Increasingly those same people are eating our lunch with respect to the visual display of information, in Marketing situations and everywhere else.
So why are we falling behind?
I don't think it's strictly a generational issue, having been around long enough now to see bad charts produced by young and old alike. Nor do I see it as an issue to be addressed by technical training alone; despite its frustrations and shortcomings it's still pretty easy to use PowerPoint. Instead I think the research industry's failure to communicate better visually has more to do with an over focus on software skills training and a corresponding failure to appreciate visualization itself as an important part of the analytic process. If it isn't visual, it isn't logical. And if it isn't logical then your story won't carry the day.
Put more simply, if it doesn't look good, it isn't good.
And yet more often than not the industry thinks of charts as if they were just another production task to organize and optimize - the type of task that gets done after all the "hard" work has been completed. Typically that leads us to lots of charts, done with little critical thought.
Speed and efficiency gains alone won't help us catch up around the conference table. Chart automation software solutions may help tremendously with the (re)production of tracking studies, but by themselves won't help us become more effective story tellers. Instead I encourage all of us to stop thinking about "charting" and start thinking about "visualization."
I know - the term can feel a bit trendy. Feel free to avoid saying "visualization" if you want; just don't forget that most buzz words come about because they crystallize something important. When we visualize we're helping brains to see and understand - a task that's crucial to our role as researcher-communicators. It follows then that charts created without regard to data visualization are not likely to help us tell a story.
So Market Researchers let's do this too, and right at the start; an integral part of our design conversations. Because while we all dream about the lightening strike of an "aha," the truth is that many important research insights go ignored because they aren't well presented.
By thinking early on about the objectives and the visual argument we want to put forth in support of those objectives, we'll avoid the trap of "chart production" and be better prepared to write effective surveys, deliver logical stories, and make compelling arguments. That's how we can earn our place at the decision-making table.