Death by PowerPoint is still a killer. The solution? Invest in design

Design is the silver bullet for research. Make your findings interesting, simple and easy to understand and the world will take notice. If it intuitively makes sense your findings will spread like wildfire. If not, it'll die on the screen.

Recently there's been a hive of innovation in research: online; mobile; social… the list goes on. But this list is all just different methods of collecting information. What has been more resistant to change is how we present that information.

If research wants to have more impact with decision makers, we need to be more palatable for them. This means translating the findings into something they can intuitively understand. The problem is it is easiest to present people with the same representations used by the research: graphs and numbers. This is not the way it ought to be. We need to present decision makers with information in the format most appropriate to their needs and to the decisions they need to make. What is wrong with a lot of presentations today is their design, which requires people to behave in research-centred ways, picking apart data and numbers, ways for which many people are not well suited. What we find, then, is that the form of representation makes a dramatic difference in the ease of understanding the research.

There are two tasks for any audience – finding the relevant information and deciding upon the desired action. The design of the research presentation can either help or hinder this process. We believe we must work harder to make sure the design of the presentation does not get in the way; as if designed inappropriately we are at risk of losing the audience and not giving them the opportunity to find the information and make the most appropriate business decisions.

To combat this, we will argue there are three major changes researchers need to undertake:

  1. Get better at PowerPoint

    Too often the presentation is a data dump of raw findings from the methodology. Little thought goes into how a novice should understand it. Teams need to be taught design theory and trained in how to maximise the potential of PowerPoint. For example, learning about Gestalt psychology will help researchers know how to space, design and layout results.

  2. Go beyond PowerPoint

    We need to loosen our grip on PowerPoint and embrace other forms of information delivery. A lot of times a deck of slides isn't the most appropriate format. Why not put together a video debrief of your findings that brings the information to life? Why not create a bookmark with the top 5 takeaways for your stakeholders? Why not mock up an example advert that best reflects what consumers would most respond to?

  3. Hire a designer

    We believe having an in-house designer is now as essential as having an in-house data analyst. Not only do designers bring a skill set and design experience that they can leverage, they also are unshackled by years of research training and so bring fresh eyes and perspectives to research, making the output they create at once more relatable and accessible for any audience.

We believe that taking on even just one of these changes will greatly enhance the impact and relevance of research to senior decision makers