Data overload

In a recent project, I had to visualise the 5 year IT spend plan of a very large company: different business processes, different applications, different responsibilities, different timing, some were build, some were buy, different budgets.

Rather than pages of bullet point slides, I went for a simple table that showed the applications by business division, around 60 boxes. Then this - relatively complex - structure was repeated over and over again, each time with a different set of highlights and colour codings. After the first few repeats, the audience will slowly start to recognise the position of the applications on the grid, and i can introduce more complexity.

Here are some techniques to deal with complex tables and lots of different data set:
  • Colour: use similar colours to highlight similar items. Pick how you use colour: colour an entire box, add a coloured dot to a box, colour the line around a box. Use muted, calm colours for larger surfaces, use very bright, highly contrasting colours for small accent objects.
  • Semi-transparent white to cover parts of the table you do not need for a slide. Use shape booleans to cut out pieces of the cover.
  • Elimination: take the audience through a process where you throw out items bit by bit: here are the applications that we are not responsible for (out), here are the applications that we will not work on (out).
  • Re-order: Flip rows and columns until you get a layout where similar items are grouped together.
  • Shapes: squares, triangles, circles can make nice small objects to highlight different aspects.
In the meeting, try projecting the tables on a whiteboard, which allows you to make live markings on your slides.