Usher & Omero: Hey Pollsters, Time to Make a Better Chart!

01/07/2010 11:36 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Doug Usher is Senior Vice President and Research Director at Widmeyer Communications.

Margie Omero is President and founder of Momentum Analysis LLC and a frequent contributor.

Back when the two of us collaborated on polling presentations (in the mid-to-late 1990s), PowerPoint had more competitors and transparencies were as common as LCD projectors. Even today, it can sometimes take more technical savvy than it should to create a slide that's both legible and informative. But presenting data in an understandable visual way is one of the most important things pollsters do for their clients. While usually chooses to simply lead by example on this topic, we thought we'd have some back-to-work fun.

Inspired by this comment from a couple of months past, we've selected a few examples of (frankly) awful charts. Certainly we're not perfect. But it's time to take a stand! Clients pay us to help use data to build effective strategies - and part of our job is to present graphics that illuminate, not confuse and distract.To paraphrase a famous political philosopher, pollsters of the world, unite - the only thing you have to lose is your outdated and clunky templates.

To this end, below are a few examples of subpar graphics from mainstream polling firms - to give a sense of just how far we have to go as a profession.To protect the guilty, we've obscured references to the pollsters, but have kept everything else intact.

This is just a start - do you have some better examples of graphic crimes by pollsters?

EXAMPLE A: Getting too much interpretive analysis out of very little data:

Example A.jpg

EXAMPLE B: Color schemes that add no insight.

Example B.jpg

EXAMPLE C: Do big numbers convey your point more effectively?

Example C.jpg

EXAMPLE D: Are two graphics always better than one?

Example D.jpg

EXAMPLE E: Really?

Example E.jpg

Here are a few "action items" for pollsters to think about as they put together charts for presentations.

  1. What is the point of your chart - and what data are critical to making that point? Try to have the exact amount of information to make your point, not too little and not too much.
  2. Is it accessible to a non-pollster? The goal of an effective presentation is for it to be passed along to (and understood by) many.
  3. Are there extraneous slides/data that can be effectively summarized in a few words? Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but in too many presentations hundreds of numbers can be replaced by a few summary points about significant subgroups.
  4. Is every additional color, font, chart type and piece of clip-art required to make an additional insight? If not, then refrain. What once was seen as "plain" is now more likely to be viewed as "crisp" and "concise."

Let's make it a New Years' resolution: simpler, clearer data slides!