This is What Alignment Looks Like

Ideal alignment is when everything on a page or slide lines up with something else. This sounds pretty simple, right? But there are a lot of implications to consider.

First, let’s examine a weak layout. I drew in some red lines, based on the start and end of the title, down the page in order to illustrate how the rest of the content does not line up well.

page with misaligned text

You can see that the red line on the left doesn’t touch the byline or the main body text or the graph. The red line on the right cuts across the main body text and doesn’t touch the page number at the bottom. Now, some audience members *will* easily detect that this is the result of unintentional formatting. Others, who are less nerdy than me, tend to just get a general sense that the work is sloppy, without being able to put a finger on why. And that should be scary. No evaluator wants to give off the impression of doing sloppy work.

Below is an improved layout with better alignment.

page with consistent alignment

You’ll see here that content all lines up on the left, as it should. I simply adjusted the tabs and margins on the byline and body text to align under the left side of the header. I nudged the graph title’s text box to the left, and the axis as well, so it similarly aligned. On the right side, I shrunk the margin of the body text to get it to line up with the end of the title line (this is especially important if using full justification on body text). I even moved the tab on the page number to get it in line with the right side. Now the page looks more crisp, thoughtful, and professional (just as an evaluator should).

Of course, all this is made more complicated in slideshows, where content is presented via text boxes. Also, I’m really only addressing vertical alignment here. In slides, with text and pictures side-by-side, there’s horizontal alignment to think about too. But once you start looking specifically for alignment, you’ll see it everywhere. Make sure everything lines up with something else.

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Image Searching Made Easy(er)

We all love to see large engaging images in evaluation reporting, but it sure can be a pain in the butt to be the one behind the computer monitor, scrolling through pages of images in search for the right one. Typically, this process takes weeding through a lot of eye-strain inducing junk. My friend and colleague Susan Kistler has curated a list of free stock photo sites that do cut down on some of the tedium. While those sites can help, they are often paired with poor search engines that still make the work a bit burdensome.

This is where Google Images can help. “Google Images? That treasure-trove of crap?” I hear you ask. Well, yes. Yes, there is a lot of crap and lots of what you’d find in a straight Google Images search isn’t even licensed such that you can copy and paste it for your own slides or reports. But here’s the way to use the powerful Google search engine to find licensed images for your next evaluation report.

Let’s say I’m working on a project related to family health and I want some cute shots of families for my slideshow. This is what a typical Google Image search would produce:

There are 8 billion results (including – creepy – photos from my friends)! Insane! And as you can see from this screenshot, some of it is garbage. Some of it is also really great – wow, those would be nice pictures to have in the report. It isn’t apparent here, but most of those nice happy family photos are illegal to copy and paste. Unless they are licensed for use by others, you can’t take it for your report.

But in the upper right of your Google screen, you’ll see a little button with a picture of a gear on it. That will open up this advanced search function within Google Images.

Here, you can save yourself a bundle of time. Choose medium or large sized images so that the ones you find don’t blur when you expand them to fill your slide or page. Choose the photo format to get rid of the clip art. And look at the menu under usage rights. Depending on your organization, what you want to do with the image, and how you’ll use the report, you should choose one of the last four options there.

Now searching on something generic like “family” will still probably bring back too many results. I’ve already written here about the need to clarify your thoughts about what you want to look for. So with a few more keywords and the parameters I set above, here’s what my advanced search returned:

I’m now down to just 463 results. Wow.

Sure, there’s still some junk in there, but it’s far less to wade through. And I know all of it is free for me to copy and paste and use. And its going to be a suitable size. AND I can see some cute baby pics I’d like to snap up right there. Pinches on those chubby cheeks.

A couple of other awesome things: See the blue bar at the top of the photos? Once you enter your parameters in the advanced search page, they stick until you change them, even if you type in new search words. Nice. Now look for the button next to the gear that says “Safe Search On.” Do double check that you move this from the default (which is Moderate) to Strict to save yourself from NSFW surprises.

With just a few extra clicks, you can save yourself from hours of scrolling to find images that work. And, on occasion, I find that nothing on Google Images will work for me. At least I can come to that conclusion in about a minute and then move on to the paid stock photo sites from there. This is a worthwhile first stop for small evaluation consulting shops and nonprofits on tight budgets. Happy reporting.

On the Struggle of Locating High-Quality Images

I’ve been pretty vocal about the need for greater use of images in our evaluation communications. And while I can get most people to vow to halt the use of clip art, finding high-quality images can be a total pain. What’s at our fingertips (i.e., available on Google Images) is a problem because it isn’t often licensed for free use and it sort of sucks. I mean, lots of what’s available via Google Images are the cliche, emotionless images that actually work against the connection we’re trying to make with our audience. Here’s a sampling of what to avoid:

The alien dudes – totally un-connectable

The kumbaya symbol of diversity – so overused, it’s a turnoff

The handshake – cliche and ubiquitous

Susan Kistler, Executive Director of the American Evaluation Association, blogged about other free sites to locate high-quality images and I suggest you bookmark these places.

But oh! The time you can spend scrolling through images! Hours lost!

What’s the solution? Just like you wouldn’t wander around the grocery store aimlessly, you should go into the stockphoto site with a list of appropriate images in mind. Get really specific in the site’s search engine. Tell that thing what you want! Make it do your bidding! Which brings me to the most important point of this post:

You have to know what you want.

The most efficient method of high-quality communication in our evaluation reporting is to invest in 30 minutes of visual thinking. Take this as your hall pass to get out of the office with a sketch pad and just doodle. What images come to mind when you think about your topic, your client, your message? Brainstorm, sketch, and play. Grab a small group of people and ask them to do some free association with you (i.e., “What images come to mind when I say ‘connect'”?). Then you’ll be much better prepared to shop the stock photo site like you shop at the supermarket – as quickly as possible.

Releasing the Evaluation Report Layout Checklist

So I made this lovely checklist of graphic design best practices as a product of my dissertation (Standing Rule: If you want to know the details of my dissertation, you’ll have to buy me a drink). It included input from a panel of graphic designers including Peter Brakeman, Christy Kloote, Chris Metzner, and Kevin Brady.

I’ve been having such a great time travelling around the country, giving workshops on the checklist and using graphic design to improve the way we communicate in evaluation. But I’ve gotten overwhelmed with requests for the checklist, so I’ve decided to make it freely available:
http://bit.ly/EvalReportLayoutChecklist

Enjoy! And do post comments on your use of the checklist. (Well, your nice comments anyway.)

Evaluation Report Layout Checklist

A graphic designer, I am not. A laborer of long words and awkward sentences structures, I am. That’s why I became super fascinated by the world of report layout and formatting. Maybe the geekiest hobby, I hear you. But so important!

I’ve detailed the importance of good communication elsewhere on this blog. For evaluators in particular, the packaging and presentation of our content are often dealbreakers. Indeed, at times our choices in font and line length actually impede our clients’ ability to comprehend our findings. Yikes! Not our goal!

After reading a bazillion books and getting input from a panel of graphic design experts (Kevin Brady, Peter Brakeman, Christy Ennis Kloote, and Chris Metzner), I’ve compiled a checklist of graphic design good practice specifically for written evaluation reports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want a copy? Send me an email.

But be warned, I’m about to use the checklist on roughly 90 evaluation reports as part of my dissertation. Surely in there I’ll find good reason to make a tweak or two. I’ll post the revised version then. But in the meantime, go forth and make good work!