Every report takes a lot of energy to create. The work conducted, the surveys taken, the sales calls made—whatever the report contains, it is valuable information that a lot of people put hard work into getting. But why do so many people put so much work into the report but totally ignore the report design?
The content is often thrown into a document and sent off by deadline with little thought, which is a huge missed opportunity. Today, thanks to design and creation tools, a report can be so much more than a simple compilation of information. A great report can—and should—be a compelling piece of content that gives the reader a greater understanding of the information and insights it contains.
Whether it’s market info or study results, a strong report should distill information, present it in an easy-to-navigate format, and communicate the underlying story. Report design plays a huge role in this. But it is often overlooked.
The Scientific Benefits of Report Design
Visual communication is ubiquitous now, and for good reason. People need to synthesize information quickly and, more importantly, extract meaning and insights that influence their decision-making. Good report design helps you do that.
It makes your report more enticing and brings the story to life, especially if it includes data or numbers. When you are presenting a great deal of information, particularly data, helping your audience “see” what the numbers are saying is far more impactful than presenting data in a dry spreadsheet—or without context.
Whether a customer survey or academic research, applying the principles of design helps people interpret, understand, and extract meaning from your content because good report design actually triggers the brain’s visual processing centers and compels people to engage with it. Here’s how.
1) It Increases Appeal
According to MIT research, humans can process visual content in as little as 13 milliseconds. This is because the brain is innately drawn to beautiful things. Color, shape, and other design elements grab attention. A column of numbers in a spreadsheet might seem impenetrable, but a few colorful charts are visually stimulating and, therefore, instantly spark interest. This is especially important if:
- Your report is for external use: According to the Content Marketing Institute, 37% of B2B marketers use research reports for content marketing. If you are trying to stand out in the sea of content, something as simple as a visually arresting cover will pique interest. This is especially important for SEO traffic. According to Hoosh Technology and ISDIA research, 63% of all visitors who click on a Google image will go to the website.
- You have a ton of content: White space provides enough breathing room on the page to not overwhelm your audience, and a clear hierarchy makes it easier to navigate.
- You need to call out certain highlights: Design elements make it easier to draw attention to certain info.
Regardless of what your report contains, you need to attract and keep your readers’ attention. A beautifully designed report does that far better than a boring, text-heavy document.
Example: We partnered with the NFL to produce print reports featuring data and analytics for each team’s web performance. Each report contained detailed information, presented in a visually engaging way for easy reference.
2) Content Is Easier to Comprehend
Many reports are incredibly data-heavy, and it can be exhausting to slog through. Data visualization is powerful because it makes all that data easier to interpret. This is because our brains are biologically hardwired for visualization.
Through preattentive processing, the brain picks up on visual cues and helps you instantly derive meaning from the visual. Report design that includes charts, graphs, or other visual elements makes this easier for the brain. This is why visual communication is so useful to depict not only data but things like process or hierarchy.
You can see your own preattentive processing at work here:
Example: We partnered with Zendesk to create The Zendesk Customer Satisfaction Index, a report that includes insights from an analyzation of key help desk metrics. The report design presents the data in a straightforward manner and uses design elements like color to call out interesting insights.
3) It Helps the Reader Retain Information
When your brain sees visual information, it identifies, recalls, and ultimately stores those images in your memory. Visualizations trigger your brain to reference long-term memory, making your brain connect to already stored information while cementing new concepts. (Learn more about the elements of a memorable data visualization, according to MIT research.)
As John Medina says in Brain Rules, “Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture, and you’ll remember 65%.”
Example: The data visualizations in the National Association of Realtors 2013 Annual Report bring data to life, making the info easier to synthesize and recall.
How to Get Started on Report Design
Reports are often used to make major decisions. This is why reports serve a purpose. They are, essentially, tools to educate people. If you want to make an impact through the content you include, you need to use every tactic at your disposal.
- Find the story in your data: Learn how to identify interesting, unusual, and unique stories with our step-by-step guide.
Craft an effective narrative: Find out how to properly guide readers through a data story.
- Follow data visualization best practices: Find out how to design the most common charts and graphs, and follow these 25 design tips to make your data more effective.
If you still need help, let’s talk through it.