Prioritising visuals using colour and symbols

Saw this post yesterday on HBR: Make priorities clear with green, yellow and red by Anthony Tjan.  In it, like the title suggests, Anthony Tjan suggests making your priorities clear using colour.  It’s definitely a good start, so I thought I would explain further.  For example, let’s take the table below:

table 1

We could prioritise the table by target date or by resource or by importance of the action.  If we use target date as an example, we could put completed actions in green, ongoing actions in yellow and actions behind schedule in red…

table 2

As a project manager, I can tell you that this idea definitely has merit.  In fact, I’ve used it several times in presentations and reports, to enable my managers and teams to immediately see the priority.  That being said, I also have a big problem with this idea.  What if you are colour blind?  I myself am partially colour blind.  I can see reds and greens, but similar colours are a problem for me.  So how I can I make this idea user friendly for those that canot see colour? Personally, I would do two things:

  • Separate the table into sections to put the different categories together
  • Add icons to show good and bad to make the distinction clear

table 3

However, those that know me, will probably tell you that I wouldn’t be satisfied with this either.  It’s a good start, but it’s still not visual enough.  There are various statistics out there on the value of a good visual and retention.  If you ask someone to remember just text, 72 hours after the training / presentation, they will only remember 10% of what was written.  If you add visuals (good ones) that retention rate can go up to 75%!  So how could I better present the table above visually?

First I might split the table into two slides; one slide entitled “New training templates” another entitled “Leadership training package”.  Then I might use timelines, photos, icons and tables as needed to illustrate the point I want people to remember!


What do you think?  What is your take home message?  Is the slide above easier to read?  Are you more or less likely to remember it?

Alesandra Blakeston

6 thoughts on “Prioritising visuals using colour and symbols

    1. Glad you agree Chris. Yes it is simple, but definitely powerful. It really helps to sway your audience in the case of a budget review for example, or project analysis and it really helps when training to help the trainee to focus on the important points. Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Nice work Alesandra. The visual artwork transforms the slide from information to infotainment, and isn’t that the purpose of using a visual presentation?

    Or to paraphrase, color coding, good; iconography, better; visuals, best.

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