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Published on 07 October 2019

What can I learn from chefs & photographers

First Published in 2019

I recently read an article that stated “The simple act of rotating your plate can make the food on it taste better.” Like many of you my first reaction was scepticism, surely this was yet another of those statistically unsound studies that newspapers seem to love. However, as I read on I found that this was a valid study conducted by the Science Museum scientists at Oxford University. 

Having established that some scientists have far too much time on their hands, my curiosity got the better of me and I read on. Their research showed that when an angled piece of food such as a slice of cake is pointed away from the diner they will actually rate the taste higher than when it is pointing towards them. Amazingly they are also willing to pay more for what is essentially exactly the same dish. (For those of you who like to plate their food using a protractor, the optimum angle is 3.2 degrees clockwise to the right of the vertical axis of the plate).

This got me thinking how powerful visual cues are in our perception, and I started to look for other examples. Have a look at the clock and watch page of any catalogue and you will notice that the clocks all show the same time, ten past ten. There is an urban myth that this is the time that Abraham Lincoln was shot, however this is incorrect, he was shot at quarter past ten. The real reason is twofold;

  1. It keeps the hands clear of the makers logo
  2. It looks like a smile, the industry standard used to be twenty past eight, but this looked liked a frown and research showed that people were less likely to buy an unhappy clock.

A common theme at the recent Data, Analytics and Insight Awards was the importance of communication. These articles highlight that the way we position our insight on a page can actually make a big difference.

Top tips

Follow natural reading patterns

In western cultures we read from left to right and top to bottom. When we are presented with several elements on a page we will naturally read them in that order. Make sure that this matches the story you are telling.

Focus on upper left

This is the first thing we read and so the thing that grabs our attention. Make sure this is your core message.

Use size appropriately

Sometimes we change font or chart size to make things fit. However, we perceive a correlation between font size and importance. Ensure that when using different font we align these with the importance of the message.

Use consistent colours and fonts

We have evolved to spot things out of the ordinary, a slightly different font or colour will catch our eye and we will wonder why it is different. You want people thinking about the message you are trying to convey, not wondering why the third sentence is in Comic Sans. (Spelling and grammatical errors can also distract the reader in the same way).

Use consistent trends

When using multiple graphs, try and keep some consistency in the direction of trends. If an upward trend is an improvement, try and ensure this is the same for all graphs. This makes it easier for the reader to understand at a glance. You may need to look at opposite metrics do this, for example AHT > calls per hour or repeat calls > first contact resolution.

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