In a recent project, I had to visualise the 5 year IT spend plan of a very large company: different business processes, different applications, different responsibilities, different timing, some were build, some were buy, different budgets.

Rather than pages of bullet point slides, I went for a simple table that showed the applications by business division, around 60 boxes. Then this - relatively complex - structure was repeated over and over again, each time with a different set of highlights and colour codings. After the first few repeats, the audience will slowly start to recognise the position of the applications on the grid, and i can introduce more complexity.

Here are some techniques to deal with complex tables and lots of different data set:
  • Colour: use similar colours to highlight similar items. Pick how you use colour: colour an entire box, add a coloured dot to a box, colour the line around a box. Use muted, calm colours for larger surfaces, use very bright, highly contrasting colours for small accent objects.
  • Semi-transparent white to cover parts of the table you do not need for a slide. Use shape booleans to cut out pieces of the cover.
  • Elimination: take the audience through a process where you throw out items bit by bit: here are the applications that we are not responsible for (out), here are the applications that we will not work on (out).
  • Re-order: Flip rows and columns until you get a layout where similar items are grouped together.
  • Shapes: squares, triangles, circles can make nice small objects to highlight different aspects.
In the meeting, try projecting the tables on a whiteboard, which allows you to make live markings on your slides.

If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.