My Graphic Design Circa 2005

It’s so easy to knock instances of bad graphic design in evaluation. They’re ubiquitous and, like many of you, I’m really good at it.

So in the spirit of transparency (and curiosity) I dug up old flash drives to locate bad examples of graphic design and evaluation of my own. Nothing but pages of text in my unbringing as an evaluator. So I went back further – to anything I’d ever done in academia. Not a graph or chart or picture to be found. Not a single powerpoint to pick apart, even from my days teaching undergraduates. No kidding. The closest thing I could find was a set of transparencies (did I think it was 1980 instead of 2005??) I used in a conference presentation on international child labor. Deep breath – here is page one:

I mean, oh god! And this was my dynamic opener!

If memory serves correct, I broke nearly every cardinal sin of presenting findings:

1. I read the text aloud, probably slower than the audience was reading in their minds.

2. This page of grey text did nothing to support my talk, when graphic representations of several of these points could have been more appropriate.

3. Even as a takeaway handout, the bullet points don’t stand on their own. “Bonded and invisible”?

4. I stood with the projection light in my face, so the audience had no choice but to focus on this boring transparency (or their shoes. Thank god smartphones weren’t popular back then).

5. Each of the subsequent transparencies looked exactly the same – and not because of ingenious use of a grid system, but because I had no idea how to be a decent presenter.

And as I recall, there was not a single question from the audience when I was done – and I’m fairly sure it wasn’t because they were dumbstruck by the enormity of the problems in child labor in Mexico. I made the most engaging presentation possible.

The good news is that change is possible. Five years later I can look at this bulleted list and see several options for visualizations that would better represent the story I was trying to tell. (You are probably thinking Well, show us your ideas! but I have a dissertation to write and I’d actually like to see your ideas more. Email them to me!).  Progress and growth means that I am ready to rally my fellow evaluators toward more thoughtful and intentional designs, ones that make people listen and wonder and act. Join me!

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  1. Oh yea. I used to work as a professional trainer. I look at my slides from that era and want to crawl under a rock. And hide. And am amazed that I was ever invited back. On the good side, most of the training was very hands on with lots of concrete take-aways which meant that my horrendous slides weren’t the focus for very long.

    Thanks so much for your blog Stephanie. Makes me strive to get better. Not always succeed. But strive.

  2. Thanks for this post and I know that I have been guilty of this because I perceived having less graphics made it more “professional”…NOT. This day and age requires us to tap into our creativity and display knowledge in innovative ways.

  3. Anne W

     /  January 27, 2012

    I’ve been in my current evaluation job for 3 years and I also recently looked back at my first reports. “I want to crawl under a rock” sounds about right! It’s amazing what can be learned with a bit of experience. The great news is that my organization also recognizes presentation of information as key to communication and we have a working group that looks at this very issue. Stakeholders have commented how much more they get out of our reports and presentations (and other tools!) since we’ve further developed our “evaluation products”. It’s worth the time investment to learn!


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