Reporting for the Small Screen

What the heck? Did that big wall of text just blow up my smart phone?

Just a guess here, but I don’t think smart phones are going away anytime soon.

I think it’s time to really start focusing on how we can use the technology as a reporting tool.  And stop pretending that it’s not the place where a large number of our stakeholders engage with our programs on a daily basis.

Report using email applications.

What better place to start out your mobile-responsive reporting than with email?

Tell me the last time you read a report on your phone.  Now how about the last time you read your email?

By using a tool like Mailchimp, you can create custom report templates.  Just try to keep it simple.  And as a bonus, you also get some powerful analytics like open rates and click rates.  You’re not getting that from your PDF.

Report using blogging software.

WordPress and Square Space make really nice web-based reporting tools.  And you won’t have to hire some amazing designer to make your site mobile-responsive.  Instead, you’ll have tons of responsive template options to choose from.

Create mobile-friendly charts, visuals, and infographics.

This story sparked today’s post.  Don’t Teach Data Journalism Without Teaching Mobile-First Design.

The lack of mobile-design thinking among data visualization experts and software companies is kind of a pet peeve of mine.  Far too many professional tools put a lot of focus on desktop dashboard systems, large image infographics, or high resolution visualizations.  But panning and zooming is not my idea of engaging mobile design.

The alternative mobile-friendly way to visualize is to create smaller resolution images AND larger text charts, visuals, and infographics.  You know, the kind that would actually be readable on a smart phone.

Think small multiples just in separate image files.

Test on multiple devices.

Try out your report using chrome, firefox, internet explorer, safari, mac, pc, laptops, desktops, ios, android, tablets and phones.

Any number of factors can change the look of your report.  Don’t wait until after you deliver when you start hearing complaints.

What did I miss?

Anyone else trying out a mobile-responsive reporting approach?  Would love to hear some additional tips.


  1. David Keyes on April 6, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    It seems like so much of what you’re arguing (and which I agree with 100%) is that the idea of “reporting” itself needs to change. When I first read this, I was thinking, “well, people don’t read reports on mobile devices.” But, of course don’t because reports (or maybe capital R Reports) aren’t designed for mobile. Instead, I like how you talk about reporting (as a verb), not Reports as a noun. It seems like this shift is fundamental to getting people to think outside the computer.

    That said, it seems like one of challenges will be getting away from the idea that Reports = gravitas and seriousness. There is no reason at all why emails, blog post, or anything else cannot be serious reporting avenues, but without buy-in from others on this idea, I worry that it will be hard to shift the conversation in this direction. Is this something you’ve experienced?

    • Chris Lysy on April 7, 2016 at 6:53 am

      That’s pretty much my everyday battle with almost all of my work 🙂 John Cleese talks about the difference between solemn and serious in this talk:

      I think there is a pretty common instinct to put formality and tradition over effectiveness. And then to relate formality and tradition with seriousness. But if we really are serious, then being effective in reaching our audience is far more important than reporting tradition.

      The way I’ve approached shifting the conversation involves bringing well thought out alternatives along with evidence. But I’ve definitely found that it’s a much easier sell to just design a pretty pdf.

      • David Keyes on April 7, 2016 at 6:22 pm

        Yes, very good points! Where do you see the impetus for change more likely to come from (or, perhaps more accurately, the lack of obstruction of change)? I’ve wondered, for example, if non-profits can really do more creative reporting if their funding agencies ultimately want traditional reports. So maybe the impetus has to come from funders? What do you think?