Lost in Reporting
Problems and Solutions in Reporting
Germany’s Youth Word of the Year 2020 puts the situation of many report users in a nutshell: they are “lost”. Without a sense of direction, they find themselves time and again faced with multicoloured, overloaded and misleading management reports, the content of which they must work hard to understand. But shouldn’t the messages be plain and clear? This insight is now becoming more and more widely accepted. Increasingly, companies are turning their back on the everyday reporting circus and choosing a uniform visual language for their business communication.
The designer within me
A blue border here, a violet one there, areas shaded in red, yellow and green, and pie charts as if straight from a 1960s psychedelic music video. The colour palettes and design options in PowerPoint and the like are very enticing, and many a report writer is all too willing to answer their call. The result is usually all over the place and offers little assistance in understanding the key points.
Plain and monochrome is better: in black and white, the reader is free to focus on the content. Colour only comes into play when it’s a question of showing positive or negative results clearly. For this, green and red are quite sufficient. There’s no need for anything else.
The tide is rising.
It happens almost without thinking: in order to show the sales trend for each product group, every country gets a slide to itself. Unfortunately, however, spreading out information on the same topic like this is one of the most effective ways of clouding the report user’s understanding. Who can possibly compare the trends in the UK, Denmark and Germany if the figures are scattered across several slides and pages?
This can be remedied by condensing the data onto a single slide. In the process, it’s important to bear in mind the question to be answered, as it’s also true that there’s no single correct solution that applies to all facts.
Playing with perception
Imagine a slide with two columns, of about the same height, for profit and sales. It’s obvious then, isn’t it, that profit = sales? Perhaps, though like in many a sales agreement, a look at the small print changes everything. The sales here were measured in millions of euros, while the profit was only stated in thousands. And those who fail to look carefully will easily get the wrong impression.
Misunderstandings such as this can be prevented by using a uniform scale on each slide or page of the report. Where a different scale is necessary, this should be clearly indicated.
Putting an end to the chaos
Anyone presented with such an epitome of individuality loosely referred to as a report can doubtless get a lot out of it. But there’s one thing he cannot do, and that is gather the key facts and findings from the work in just a few seconds. Which is a pity, for isn’t that the whole point? Nevertheless, many people are reluctant to put an end to the chaos. On the one hand, they have grown used to it, and on the other hand, all those involved generally have better things to do than to come up with guiding principles for a successful reporting system.
Yet clear and comprehensible reporting need not remain a pipe dream. What’s the use of presentations and management reports when the senders feel misunderstood and the recipients don’t feel well served? Those wishing to focus on the essential content, formulate clear messages and produce receiver-oriented reports can obtain guidance from the SUCCESS formula. The seven basic principles behind the acronym point the way to a uniform visual language throughout the company.
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