Heresy! Creating a graphic with no data to back it up means cheating your readers, doing marketing void of any meaning, or barely decorative!
What about world maps then?
Very useful to understand a topic by looking at the map of the whole world, these maps are completely useless to navigate between two continents. No navigator will take the risk to use them, because these maps are not exact. Their job is to explain the relative position of different countries, continents and oceans. This doesn’t include being exact, nor geographically correct.
Explaining is the key. Sometimes we have to go through a phase where we try to align two opposite (or divergent) points of view. How often do you take a pen and a piece of paper to visually explain a concept to a colleague or a customer?
Before trying to convince using numbers, you can use a conceptual graphic, without any data, to explain:
- how a product fits in a process
- the difference between two different choices
- a new concept or idea
Let’s take a few examples from the software world.
Explain how a product fits in a process
The product type you are proposing does not correspond with the products already existing in your customer’s world. To explain your proposal, a practical choice is to use a graphic. To do that, you don’t need raw data, you need to describe the process you are using.
However, you need to enforce the important points which make your process a better fit in the client’s context:
- Integrating a specialized module in an electronic health record
- Using a cloud hosting solution for an online shop
- Choosing a subscription model for your product
The situation is a bit more complicated when you compare two different situations.
Explain the difference between two different choices
Your product is not the main character of the graphic anymore. The results, the outcome, of the systems in place become the focal point of the visualization. In this case, the goal is to explain the different results produced by two alternatives. For example when using or not using your product.
Apart from a process or a comparison, another situation where graphics which don’t use real-world data are quite efficient is to illustrate an idea or a concept.
Explain a new concept or idea
Before discussing a solution, you need to understand and explain back the problem your customer is facing in a way that makes it obvious that:
- the problem customers are facing is real and urgent
- the problem needs a solution
- the problem-solution space fits your point of view
Sometimes your customers are too far from understanding your solution. This happens when their current way of working is too difficult to find a better way for lack of time and resources.
Too many businesses still use paper instead of software.
Too many hospitals use fax instead of modern communications.
Too many times complex software systems are used instead of inter-human communication.
There are cases like these where you can use a graphic to explain the concept first and gain understanding and traction with your customers, before going to discuss alternatives or processes.
Which data backs up your graphic, mister?
You will sometimes face direct questions on what data did you base your graphics on. Depending on the situation, this might be difficult. The farther you are from a concrete solution, the more this is difficult.
What you can do instead of backing off, is to propose a pilot phase to work together with your customer to gather data. Winning this means you have one foot in the process leading to your customer’s evolution towards your problem-solution space.
Some more examples
How to use a conceptual graphic
When explaining using pen and paper in a discussion, nobody expects you to analyze on the spot some heavy Excel tables, load data in Tableau, make charts, copy them to Adobe Illustrator and print out a beautiful infographic.
Instead, you can use a conceptual graphic to explain your idea, sketch out alternatives, or show how your product will fit in the current process. This is not a heresy. Instead, it is a different kind of graphic than those based on data.