Picture This: How We Visualize Data to Tell Stronger Stories

This is the second in a series of profiles about inspiring folks we love to collaborate with.  

The multi-talented Sidney Jansons is a market researcher with a background in design. She enhances her research work with design skills to effectively communicate insights. Sidney has been instrumental in taking Southpaw’s reporting from “blah” to “boom!”, and her own story is just as interesting.

Sidney, I love the story about how you originally got into market research. Can you share that with us?

An original “Polling the Polies” chart.

Back in 2011, I went to Antarctica to work at a research station, and one of my jobs was washing dishes. To spice it up, I asked everyone who came through the dish pit line to answer a binary polling question, and I called it Polling the Polies – Polies being those who work at the South Pole. I created visual charts and a little commentary that I posted outside the dish pit window, so everyone could see the results.

When I got back to the States, I got a job at Keystone Ski Resort doing intercept surveys on the ski slopes. One day, I interviewed someone on the lift, and he said, “Oh, my dad does market research.” And I responded, “Is your dad hiring?” That’s how I got my foot in the door at a market research consultancy.

Your college degree is a bachelor of fine arts. Can you tell me how you began to bring your artistry into your work as a market research professional?

As I got into the industry, I saw how much PowerPoint was being used and how Word reports were getting transferred to PowerPoint basically just as text boxes.  I saw that if I’m going to communicate well in a slide, I need to be able to clearly display information, and design is an important part of that. Beyond just how text boxes are laid out, PowerPoint gives you many tools to leverage and utilize the shapes, color, and lines in order to help clarify points through visualization.

How does the kind of work you do in design fit in with the kind of research that Southpaw Insights does?

One of the fun things that we’ve been doing at Southpaw is infographics. (Check out some of Sidney’s infographics here and here.) By presenting information in a long, scrolling format, the viewer interacts with the story that we tell as they move down the page. This both creates visual emphasis and highlights the priority of information, and it provides – step-by-step – what an audience needs in order to grasp what we are communicating.

Of course, we also create PowerPoint presentations and reports for our clients. Without a focus on design, it is so easy to have chart after chart and table after table of information – or lots of quotes or bulleted lists – that become repetitive and can obscure the main point. And so, starting with your headline and then moving into your slide with the actual data, by using color in a different way, or an icon, or creating emphasis with font sizes or positioning items on the slides, you can start to create coherence and ensure that the viewer doesn’t have to work hard to understand the main findings.

We have really strong storytellers and report writers in our industry. But if we are unable to make that connection from the strong story being told in the headline to what’s being shown on the rest of the slide, the key information will get lost.

What do you think is the future of representing research data in a visual way?

Younger generations – Millennials and Gen Z – are coming into the business world having paid attention to design. I think there will be less acceptance of poor design. There are very well-designed things all over the place. And there are tons of tools that make good design accessible. I don’t necessarily want to endorse one thing over another, but I love The Noun Project

Sidney and Adam at their long-delayed wedding, June 2022. Photo by Amanda Lamb – Squire Studios.

Tools like free stock photo websites allow people to easily add in a graphic element, where in the past if they didn’t have a company account, designers had to pay tons of money for these resources. I also think a good trend that’s starting to come out is there are certain stock photo websites that are specifically aimed towards making sure there’s representation of different kinds of people in photos across the board. 

Ultimately, however, the key remains the same – that is, deploying the basic principles and elements of good design when creating reports. I can’t emphasize enough that if research findings are presented in a visually coherent and compelling way, all of our hard work of collecting and analyzing data and coming up with great insights will “jump off the page” and leave the client not only satisfied, but wanting more!  

Want to see how our infographics can make data come to life? Contact us.

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