At 26, I was responsible for a lot of the marketing materials and presentations of a mid-sized fixed income hedge fund. As is typical for many financial and consulting firms, these presentations contained phenomenal content with little consideration for aesthetics or brand consistency. I took great interest in streamlining these materials and creating a more uniform brand message with every presentation. And thus, the idea that would later become di8it – a new web application that extracts data from chart images – was born.
Getting a Leg Up
Standing out as a new consultant, financial analyst, or any other business professional can be extremely challenging, particularly in the current hypercompetitive market. When you start working, you’ll frequently be creating presentations and reports, which can provide an excellent opportunity to distinguish yourself from your peers. These presentations typically use charts and diagrams from outside research, and employees will often haphazardly slap these together so that they are inevitably difficult to read, ugly to look at, and inconsistent with their company’s brand. So if you put in just a bit of extra effort to create superior, homogenous presentations, you’ll immediately get a leg up.
Which looks better: the PowerPoint slide on the left or the right? Although both utilize the same data, the right slide looks significantly more professional and indicates that the creator cares about the image that she and her company project.
Game Changing New Software
At many large consulting firms, the left slide isn’t even an option. At these companies, you are always required to create uniformly branded presentations for your clients: if you can’t change the format of a chart, you can’t use it. In the past, there were only a few, sub-optimal ways to achieve this:
1. Track down the data from the source (often not possible)
2. Manually estimate the data yourself (a painful and imprecise process)
3. Outsource the work to a separate research group (likely with significant lag time and a hefty price tag)
Now with di8it, you can upload an image of a chart from a PDF or website and immediately get the raw data to analyze or re-format. Because it’s so fast and easy to use, di8it can save you an enormous amount of time and add a lot of efficiency to your presentation-making process.
Simple Rules for Making Better Charts
Once you have the data, you can create a new chart in any format you’d like using your favorite spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel. Typically, your firm will have some rules for chart formatting, but, if not, here are some of my basic guidelines for data visualization:
1. Choose an Appropriate Chart Type
Sometimes the original chart type will not be the best way to display the information. Once you have the raw data from di8it, you can use this diagram from Extreme Presentation to choose the optimal chart type.
2. Remove Clutter
Unless they’re absolutely necessary, remove gridlines or make them as subtle as possible. The same goes for unnecessary axes lines, legends (e.g., when there is only one series), and borders. These elements typically take away from the actual data and make your charts harder to read.
3. Use Proportional Font Sizes
If you’re creating a slideshow to present to an audience, make sure the font is no smaller than 18 pts so the charts are legible from a distance. Also, avoid any overly elaborate font styles such as scripts or heavy boldfaces.
4. Use Minimalist Number Formats
The numbers for your axes lines and data labels should be easy to decipher: 20,000 is better than 20000, 35% is better than 35.00%, and 0.7 is better than 0.7123.
5. Make It Obvious
The point that you’re trying to make should be almost immediately obvious to the person reading the chart. Sometimes this means splitting one chart into two, adding trendlines, or combining series that aren’t relevant (e.g., pie charts should not have more than five slices). Because you have the underlying data, you can easily make these improvements over the original design.
These are small changes that can make an enormous difference in the overall appearance of your presentations and reports. When embarking on a career as a business professional, it’s important to project an image of thoroughness, demonstrate superior attention to detail, and indicate that you care about the company and its brand. Creating visually appealing, streamlined presentations is a simple and effective way to stand out at work.