Core principles for good visualizations

How do you know if you have made an effective visual? What are guiding principles to help you do it better?

At the most simple level use these three points: 

  • have a clear message that matters to your audience
  • use simple visuals to illustrate this message, in combination with discrete amounts of text
  • have only one clear ask or task for your audience

There are many more principles than that, so let us list them out here — but return to these fundamental three ones.

  1. Give your audience concrete things to do. Guide them on what they should do. Make it clear what they can complete, and make it easy to do so.
  2. Be conversational. Anticipate what questions your audience has, and reflect these questions back to them, with answers included.
  3. Use simple, concise, visible tables whenever you can — to replace long prose text.
  4. Work with the natural flow of people’s reading — top to bottom, left to right.
  5. Use colors, bolds, and other accents in limited ways, strategically.
  6. Minimize any burdens on your audience.
  7. Use simple words, clarify meanings, and cut extra length.
  8. Provide key context and system-level views up front.
  9. Give big, bold, instructional headings to help the person understand what is going on in the detailed text.
  10. Avoid any language or images that is inflammatory. Go for neutral, matter-of-fact tone.

1 thought on “Core principles for good visualizations

  1. Thank for this resource! I am a product attorney in the Bay Area and find all of these materials so useful . I can’t tell if you are still active, but would love to be added to any mailing lists for new materials or speaking engagements.

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