A bunch of sticky notes

Fixing a messed-up table

I find this process chart quite fascinating because it carries a feel of how it evolved. The upper half has been arranged following a plan, but then there were too many green pieces to stick to it, so they were just placed into the next available empty space. Google “Plan ahead” and look a the hanging Ds there. So – we need a straight path here.

Looking at the text we might feel a bit overwhelmed. You really have to read every single word to understand what’s happening. To get a quick idea of the process it would help to emphasize a few important ones.

The colors aren’t explained anywhere. Once they are there they probably mean something, but what that might be is in the dark. Maybe readers are to associate something with them – as orange for warmth and greens for declining bio-productivity. A legend would help, as would a test whether color blind people (1 out of 20) can hold these colors apart.

On a straight path

Our first draft aligns everything in one direction. Boxes are consistent in size – this avoids the impression that bigger ones are more important than smaller ones (a highly political issue in org charts!). Measures of each box are set in bold font to give the reader a rough idea of the process very quickly.

Also, a one word change in the title has turned it from a lengthy headline into an active sentence.

A bunch of sticky notes

Our layout is still weak. Readers have to work themselves through a pile of long boxed lines. Another issue is grammar. The sentence constructions are not consistent across the process steps, thus readers have to adjust their information intake order every time, and that is slow and tiresome.

Natural reading direction and consistent sentence structure

Rotating everything by 90 degrees puts it into a natural reading order from left to right. This order harmonizes with the time component of the process, too, and further supports understanding.

At the same time, we unmask “Multi century climate warming processes” as an actual category headline, which together with “effects” helps to structure the process visually into two parts. Removing this piece from the row of process steps generates space, which we use for a bigger font altogether.

A bunch of sticky notes

Grammar: We harmonized the sentence structure across the “effects” in a way, that begins with indicating if things are going up or down. This sets the tone for each process step. This up, so that up, too, so that down. Which is very easy to consume. We could work with symbols here, too, e.g., pluses ad minuses, but that would lead us into drawing, and we want stick to simple charts with text.

However, our streamlining, rotating, emphasizing and standardizing efforts have lead to a process chart which anyone can grasp while the presenter is still speaking some introductory words. Which is a huge advantage compared with version one.