Having just returned from an Edward Tufte class, my brain is gushing with questions. Why do we set up our research reports in powerpoint? Why do we put headers and footers and logos and intriguing design elements on every page?
What is a technical report? The intent is that they share specific information, important and meaningful information. By design then, reports should be stuffed with clear detailed charts and solid conclusions supported with and abundance of references. There should be data everywhere. In fact, there should be no logos and footers because the content is taking up every last pixel.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. We write our reports by choosing charts that are pretty and available in our software. It’s not that the data demanded that chart, but that we’ve used that chart a bazillion times and are familiar with it. We then proceed to strip out useful data because the chart we chose can’t incorporate it. 3D charts are forced to become 2D charts. Four column tables are sacrificed for two column tables. We then remove further data because the chart is still too complicated and we know our reader is too stupid to get it.
The end result is that even the laziest thinker can get the point. And, it’s now such a simple point that it doesn’t even need to be in a chart. The bonus feature is that we’ve taught our poor reader that if they have to think about a chart, the chart is too difficult for normal people to understand. We have reinforced for them that they don’t have to spend a single precious minute trying to get a more thorough understanding of their business.
What if, instead, we encouraged people to use the skills they already have. The skills that got them through college, through the sports section of the morning paper, through the company’s financial report.
So, who knows a good free charting program?