The Beauty of Data: Why (and How) to Style Survey Reports
Design isn’t just for band posters, webpages, and great surveys.
It’s for data, too.
You might try to stop me here. A common perception is that design is something artsy, not something analytical. Data is about hard numbers.
Surely presenting the numbers, the raw data, is the best way to share your findings with the world (or at least the boardroom).
It’s only through design that your numbers will really be able to shine.
Why You Should Care About Report Design
There are two major reasons why you need to think about design as you report on your data:
- Visuals communicate complex information in a simple way.
- Graphs and charts help you tell the story of the data.
This is particularly important if some of the decision makers are less technically inclined.
Being able to present data in a visually crisp, clear, and interesting way is an important tactic for ensuring that the data’s story is being told, particularly when presenting your data to people who may not be as number-oriented.
Still need convincing?
Take this quote from Ian Lurie, which he shared during his talk at SES San Francisco:
…if you want to really succeed in your career as a marketer – you need to be understood. In our business, that comes down to data, and good presentation of that data.
If you want your data to be understood, follow these guidelines for report design.
Design Basics: Colors, Fonts, Organization
Someone drops a report on your desk. Whether or not you open it immediately depends on whether or not it catches your eye.
You sit down to a presentation you’re already dreading, and the first slide is lackluster and boring. How long does it take for your brain to take a mental vacation?
First impressions matter, and for your report, that means the colors, fonts, and organization of your data needs to be on point.
Choose Contrasting Colors
Have you ever tried to read a multi-bar graph where the colors start bleeding into one another, or where each color is so bright it hurts your eyes? Don’t do that.
Instead, choose colors that are crisp and high contrast, without being garish or clashing, and apply that color palate throughout your report. This ensures a seamless, unified experience for the people reading your report.
Take a look:
Use Readable Fonts
In the same style dropdown as above, you can also update your report’s font style and size.
The default in SurveyGizmo is Lato, which is one of our favorite fonts for its crisp lines and readability, especially on screens. However, you are free to select from a number of built in fonts.
That said, be careful not to go overboard.
As fun as calligraphy and themed fonts are, they can also affect readability. The word clouds below represent the same data. And yet, which one is easier to read?
Err on the side of readability–always. Your data is meant to be shared!
Keep Data Uncluttered
In your final report, make sure you give each question’s reporting chart the time and space to shine. But, if you are building your reports outside of SurveyGizmo, remember to give your charts and graphs plenty of room to be digested.
See this example of what not to do from Lurie:
Image from Ian Lurie
In this example, the data is clustered together in a way that makes all seven of them difficult to read and understand. There is simply too much visual noise.
How about this?
Image from Ian Lurie.
From the original report, Lurie pulls two of the most important charts and displays them together in a new, improved, cleaned design.
While there is technically less data being displayed in these two charts, by paying attention to design, you’re conveying more information.
Storytelling Through Data: The Next Step for Report Design
Now that you’ve improved your report’s appeal and readability, it’s time to get down to what your numbers really mean.
If you’re like me, you get excited about data, especially when it’s presented in a clear, visual way that even your boss will understand.
But, don’t just share your findings. Share what they mean, too.
Help readers along by interpreting what’s important.
The three questions you should be able to answer with your report, as identified by Lurie, are:
- What story does the data tell?
- Why did that story happen?
- What should we do next?
Let’s take a look at how to go about answering each of these three questions.
What Story Does the Data Tell?
Through each one of your survey questions, you collected a lot of data.
But, no matter how careful you were about planning your questions and question types, there is a chance that there is some data that doesn’t need to be in your final report. By reordering the charts and graphs, you’ll be able to structure your report to tell this story.
Some findings will be more important than others. Look through your results carefully. What is your data telling you?
When you answer this question, reorganize your report accordingly.
Why Did the Story Happen?
While you may have to use follow up surveys to determine the exact reason why your results look the way they do, the answer is more likely to be within the data.
For a customer service oriented survey, for example, you could see a drop in customer satisfaction when you run out of a popular product, or if your service phone was busier than usual for a day.
Analyzing your data’s story will help you explain the data to stakeholders, which gives stakeholders the information they need to act on that data.
In the example above, they may choose to restock that product more often or hire additional phone support staff.
What Should We Do Next?
Whether or not you are involved in the final decision making processes, you are the expert in your data.
And, because you’ve presented a clear story behind what the data means and why that story came to be, you are in one of the best positions to suggest the next steps.
This could mean pivoting to targeting a different demographic, changing up your product line, hiring additional staff, or starting a new survey project to dive deeper into an unexpected trend.
Go Forth to Reporting Greatness
With this advice as your guide, you’re sure to wow with your next report.
It helps that SurveyGizmo’s built-in Standard Reports are both easy to create and customize. Interested in learning more about how to customize individual questions within your report? Check out our blog post on Data Visualization: Survey Question Types and How They Report.