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Damn Good Communication: The Power of a Super-Effective Infographic

Ali Murray Fun Stuff

Damn Good Infographics copyPack some pimple cream and your least fashionable denim jacket! Today, we’re taking a mental journey back to middle school. Scary, I know, but just go with it.

So let’s pretend you’re sitting in class, and your teacher is lecturing. Just lecturing. No PowerPoints, no blackboard drawings, no visual aid at all–just the drone of his voice, on and on and on, for the whole period.

Feel about ready to zone out? If so, you might be a visual learner.

There are a few distinct styles of learning recognized by education experts–some people learn better by doing, others by hearing, others by reading. (For a little more info on the four main learning styles, click here.)

Lots of researchers think that the most common type of learners are people who learn best by seeing something visually represented. But this majority isn’t necessarily reflected in the way the universe tends to give us our information. In fact, writing or talking things out seems to be the default, which can lead to a lot of visual learners staring blankly at textbooks or snoozing during speeches when no images are included to break up the monotony.

By contrast, then, Pascal Coffee House is a visual learner’s paradise–and this month’s certified damn good communicator–thanks to this lovely eyeful of a coffee menu:

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Instead of providing a written description of each drink, Pascal visually represents the contents on this pretty little chart, providing information that all types of learners can benefit from. One thing in particular that we love about it is that it assumes zero knowledge. You don’t need to have a Ph.D. in Caffeine Studies to understand exactly what every item on the menu includes, which means first-time customers won’t shy away from specialty drinks (like their delicious-sounding White Angel… yum!) just because they’re not sure what’s inside. It also communicates ratio in a way that simple text never could–each colored slice helps give a sense of how the drink is divided, which might help a customer decide if they need to adjust for more foam, less milk, or, in my case, forty extra pumps of chocolate syrup.

We’re big fans of using visual aids for a lot of the same reasons as Pascal. Take a look at this screenshot from ALEX.

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Here, we created a side-by-side comparison of the costs of different health plans so users can see for themselves what a certain option might look like for them, and what the precise differences are between each choice. Much like the sign at Pascal, this visual gives a clear price breakdown for each plan by component, so even a healthcare beginner can understand where the estimated costs are coming from. It also makes the ratios (such as how much you’d spend out-of-pocket versus towards your premiums) abundantly clear. Look at this for just a few seconds and–boom–you have a clear sense of how all four plans compare, and what you might want to choose.

So, as you think about the benefits communications you and your team create over the course of a year, which might benefit from a clever “at-a-glance” visual like these? Here are three candidates:

  • A calendar visual that lays out when and where a series of events will be taking place
  • A graphic that clearly shows the long-term difference in beginning to contribute, say, $3,000 a year, to a 401(k) at age 25 versus age 35
  • A tongue-in-cheek pie chart that illustrates what percentage of your company has enrolled in benefits as of the second-to-last day of open enrollment, and what percentage hasn’t. Or that illustrates what percentage of people forgot to enroll altogether last year, with an accompanying message of “Don’t be that guy/gal. Enroll before the end of the day tomorrow!”

Anyway, we salute you, Pascal Coffee House, for your clever, helpful sign, for getting us thinking about the simplifying power of great visual content, and for reminding us to revisit this list of funny pie charts. It had been too long.


If you liked this Damn Good Communication post, you should also check out:

“My First Visit” Handouts for Employees Trying to Use a New Health Care Plan

What Makes a Great Benefits Postcard

Transforming Boring Benefits Emails

Be Even More Awesome at Benefits Emails

Why Headlines Beat Bullet Points in Newsletter Writing