Communicate with ColorBy
Let’s face it: We accounting and finance professionals love our tables and numbers, especially when we’re trying to communicate information to others.
Yet that love can often lead to drowning our audience in details and data. When we fail to summarize or provide context for our results and recommendations, we make the information difficult to consume and even more difficult to act upon. It can feel as if all our accounting and reporting efforts were in vain.
Now that the complexity of data is increasing—while everyone’s attention span seems to be getting shorter—it’s more important than ever to think about the bigger picture and how we want to present our recommendations. Having worked in many businesses across various industries and segments, I’ve learned that communicating complex information clearly and concisely is a critical strength. Not only do we need to have strong analytical skills and a deep understanding of management accounting principles, but we also must collaborate effectively with others and share our findings in an impactful way. We only have a few minutes to lure readers into our data story. Today, a great financial story contains great graphs and visuals, and I strongly encourage you to use creativity and flair in your business intelligence tools and management presentations.
When thinking about how to tell your message with visuals, start by asking: What’s the key message from this presentation, and which actions am I aiming for? Color is a great way to signal the messages we want to reveal or to provoke the responses we want to get. Artists have been using colors this way for ages. When you prepare tables and narratives for your organization, use colors across the spectrum to connote different messages and evoke different emotions. Play with color, but do it wisely and don’t go overboard. If you use too much, your visual clues will get lost, and the information will become cluttered. Consider using a white background as your canvas and making good use of contrasting colors (being mindful of pairings that don’t work for color-blind individuals).
Red, for example, indicates energy and action but also danger. Orange can indicate enthusiasm but also areas that require caution. Green, on the other hand, indicates a positive effect to the environment and represents growth and renewal. Yellow is an invigorating color that promotes optimism and invites open conversations, yet it can also have a more negative meaning, such as deceit. Blue connotes calmness and responsibility (it’s no wonder management accountants love this color so much). Purple combines the calm stability of blue and the fierce energy of red and is often associated with royalty, luxury, power, and ambition.
Vincent van Gogh frequently expressed his preoccupation with color in his writing, noting, “the painter of the future will be a colourist the like of which has never yet been seen…. But I’m sure I am right to think that it will come in a later generation, and it is up to us to do all we can to encourage it, without question or complaint.”
In his work, van Gogh used color to genius effect, eliciting in us feelings of joy, sorrow, hope, and dread. I encourage you to experiment with color, to paint the future of your organization in ways that inspire, engage, and, most importantly, communicate. I also suggest checking out IMA’s Technology & Analytics Center to find tools for creating more compelling stories with data.