It’s so easy to knock instances of bad graphic design in evaluation. They’re ubiquitous and, like many of you, I’m really good at it.

So in the spirit of transparency (and curiosity) I dug up old flash drives to locate bad examples of graphic design and evaluation of my own. Nothing but pages of text in my unbringing as an evaluator. So I went back further – to anything I’d ever done in academia. Not a graph or chart or picture to be found. Not a single powerpoint to pick apart, even from my days teaching undergraduates. No kidding. The closest thing I could find was a set of transparencies (did I think it was 1980 instead of 2005??) I used in a conference presentation on international child labor. Deep breath – here is page one:

I mean, oh god! And this was my dynamic opener!

If memory serves correct, I broke nearly every cardinal sin of presenting findings:

1. I read the text aloud, probably slower than the audience was reading in their minds.

2. This page of grey text did nothing to support my talk, when graphic representations of several of these points could have been more appropriate.

3. Even as a takeaway handout, the bullet points don’t stand on their own. “Bonded and invisible”?

4. I stood with the projection light in my face, so the audience had no choice but to focus on this boring transparency (or their shoes. Thank god smartphones weren’t popular back then).

5. Each of the subsequent transparencies looked exactly the same – and not because of ingenious use of a grid system, but because I had no idea how to be a decent presenter.

And as I recall, there was not a single question from the audience when I was done – and I’m fairly sure it wasn’t because they were dumbstruck by the enormity of the problems in child labor in Mexico. I made the most engaging presentation possible.

The good news is that change is possible. Five years later I can look at this bulleted list and see several options for visualizations that would better represent the story I was trying to tell. (You are probably thinking Well, show us your ideas! but I have a dissertation to write and I’d actually like to see your ideas more. Email them to me!).  Progress and growth means that I am ready to rally my fellow evaluators toward more thoughtful and intentional designs, ones that make people listen and wonder and act. Join me!

Learn something new?

Share this helpful info with a friend who needs an extra perk today or post it to your social where your third cousin can benefit, too.