Don't Try to Be Memorable (Grumpy Old Man's Guide to Making Charts)

I often read that you should make your charts “memorable”. Well, I’m not sure if this is a good advice, specially when people use “memorable” and “professional-looking” in the same sentence.

It’s OK if you are a graphic designer and you want to spend some time crafting an unique chart that draws the attention of the casual reader. For the rest of us, simple mortals, who just need to make those 300 charts before the end of the day, crafting a chart and make it memorable is a laughable idea.

In business visualization, “memorable” can only mean two things:

  1. the chart makes a good use of the working memory and
  2. the chart is very efficient at producing insights, and that leads to better, memorable decisions.

handmade scatterplotHere is a memorable chart.

Suppose I’m testing a new ad in a small market. The outlier show that the ad is working pretty well. Now I can test it in larger markets. Do I need a “memorable”, “professional-looking chart?

There is nothing special about this chart, you didn’t spend hours perfecting its design. Just a clean and simple message.

Unfortunately, this is not what many people mean by “memorable”. They mean something that belongs to the realm of graphic design and that’s very unhelpful from a business point of view.

So, if you are making charts make your insights memorable. Make sure patterns, trends and outliers are clear and easily spotted and offer different views to explain and support the decision making.

Memorable charts? Forget about it.