You put a lot of time into the content for your reports. You collect data, put it into charts and graphs, and devote considerable energy to writing up pithy and engaging commentary and analysis.
Yet despite all of that time and energy, you still aren’t getting the response you want from your audience. You might hear that the report is hard to read, or that it contains too much information to be useful. When a report isn’t visually appealing, or the design makes it difficult to understand you’re going to turn off readers.
While less-than-compelling content is always an issue, poor design is usually an even bigger problem. Unfortunately, layout errors are all too common. But by avoiding some of the most common errors, though, you can keep your audience engaged with your content, and hear more praise than groans when the latest report arrives.
Mistake #1: Forgetting About Mobile Users
The majority of people consume content on smartphones and tablets these days. You simply cannot afford to overlook mobile users when designing your reports.
But reading on a mobile device is not the same as reading a printed paper or even on a full-size computer screen. Many of the things that wouldn’t be a big deal in a printed book, such as font selection, can render your report unreadable on a tablet. Therefore, you must incorporate responsive design into your reports. This means making is as easy as possible for your readers to see all of your content with a minimum of scrolling or zooming. It also means taking the limitations of mobile into account; for example, choosing smaller images that render more quickly, sticking with True Type fonts that are widely available on mobile, and considering the size and layout of charts and graphs so they are easily viewed on smaller screens.
Mistake #2: Not Choosing the Right Delivery Format
You must select your delivery format before you begin designing your report to maximize the space you have to work with, and to work within the limitations of the format. For example, designing your report in HTML uses fewer resources and takes up less space than other formats, but it does present some problems, because every device has a different HTML reader that can affect the formatting. E-books are another popular choice and use up the fewest resources on mobile devices, but not all e-book formats are compatible with all devices; designing a report for a Kindle, for example, prevents Nook users from reading the report.
In general, then, PDF is the best format for any report that you are not physically printing. Because the PDF is a static document, it uses limited resources on mobile, but automatically adjusts to the screen size. You don’t need to worry about fonts or layout distortion. Using reporting software like that from Windward can help you easily pull data from all of your sources and output it into any format you choose.
Mistake #3: Overloading Charts and Graphs
Charts and graphs are an ideal way to tell a story about data, and to present a great deal of information in an easily digestible format. Charts and graphs can also be overwhelming and nearly impossible to interpret if you try to include too much information in them. Some designers recommend using the “five-second test” to evaluate the effectiveness of visual elements: Show another person the graph or table for five seconds, and then ask them to tell you what information was contained in the chart. If they cannot do so, you need to condense the information more effectively. A chart is effective if the viewer can easily summarize the information that the chart intended to convey after just a few seconds of looking at it. Overloading your charts and graphs can also affect the mobile experience, so consider their size and layout carefully.
Mistake #4: Incorrectly Using Spacing and Font Size
Again, because so many people are viewing reports on mobile devices, spacing and font size are more important than ever. Even if you are physically printing your reports, though, you want them to be easy to read. Many designers try to cram as much information into as few pages as possible to save on printing costs, but when the text is too small and too closely spaced to be readable, what have you really saved? In general, bigger is better, with 12-point font being the standard for printed reports, and 14- point font the standard for mobile.
Designing reports that are attractive, easy-to-read, and compelling takes skill and the right tools. However, but following a few basic design principles and keeping mobile users in mind, it’s more likely that the response to your reports will be favorable.