The four words that can kill any visual project

I don’t like it.

Data visualization experts love to talk about effectiveness, which chart type is better than which other chart type. And while I think the discussion can be helpful sometimes it also misses a big point.

Most researchers and evaluators are not making bad visuals, they’re making no visuals (or very few visuals). And when the default is none, visuals become easy prey for key gatekeepers who just don’t have a taste for visual approaches.

A simple “I don’t like it” from the right person won’t leave you with a bad visual, it will leave you with no visual.


Whose taste matters?

  1. Your taste: I’m guessing you have a taste for visuals or you wouldn’t be here reading an article written by a cartoonist.
  2. Your boss’ taste: Whenever they see your work do they just keep saying, “well I’m not much of a visual person.”? If so, your visual project might not see the light of day.
  3. Your client/funder’s taste: If they love visuals, their taste could trump your boss’ taste. It works the other way too.
  4. Your client/funder’s boss’ taste: You usually don’t find out about their taste until much later. This can be heartbreaking, especially if you love your work.
  5. Your audience’s taste: Ideally this should be the one that matters the most. We live in a world where audiences are screaming for visuals but yet we keep responding with big blocks of text.

Become your own boss and you can skip over number 2. Find a client that you know loves the visuals you create and skip over numbers 3 and 4. Or you could start your own blog, where you speak directly to an audience, and skip right to number 5.

Not in the position to do any of that? First let’s avoid the cardinal sin of any creative venture. Do not let the anticipated fear of rejection stop you from trying. Let’s at least test the waters.

Assessing Taste

The best way I’ve found to assess taste is to create a sample. Then place that sample up against the alternative (the way it would have been done without the visual).

Stephanie Evergreen does this with slide decks using a before and after approach (here’s the bullet point deck and here’s the visual deck).

Another approach is what David Kelley calls “double delivering.” So if you’re working on a project deliver two versions, one the regular way and one the visual way.

Maybe the stars will align, you’ll deliver the visual prototype and everyone will love it. Great!

Of course maybe they won’t. But don’t give up, not yet.

p.s. notice that David Kelley doesn’t suggest writing up a proposal. And Stephanie didn’t just describe the approach. In both cases, live versions or prototypes are created. This is important, not only are you showing a visual alternative, you’re also proving that it can be done.

You’re not going to change someone’s taste

OK, so your gatekeepers didn’t love it.

We’re bombarded with pictures constantly on the web, day in and day out and it’s changing your audience. Your gatekeepers are also getting bombarded with those pictures, and if it’s not enough to change their taste, why do you think you’ll have better luck?

Don’t take it personally, tastes change slowly. If you can’t appeal to your gatekeeper’s taste, it’s time to change your approach. Focus on the audience.

If you can prove that your visual way is a better way to reach your audience, you can earn trust. Earn enough trust and you’ll get more opportunities to do interesting visual work. Even if it’s not your boss’ cup of tea.


  1. Alana Hulme Chambers on November 11, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Great post Chris. It really got me thinking about ‘who matters’ and ‘what matters’, and that the two don’t necessarily align. I also like the idea of the prototype because I think it helps people to ‘visualise the visual’ and using this as a way to possibly get buy-in from the ‘CreHaters’ (great word too!). Your first cartoon is also a great reminder of not taking criticism to heart, or too personally. Thank you!

    • Chris Lysy on November 13, 2014 at 11:18 am

      Thanks Alana!
      I find that a lot of times with visuals, it can also be a lot quicker to create the prototype than try to explain. Of course i’ll be getting more into how that’s done soon 🙂

  2. Alana Hulme Chambers on November 11, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Also, those “4 words” resonate with Australians…we had a politician a few years ago whose favourite saying was “I don’t like it”…someone made a YouTube clip about it 🙂

    • Chris Lysy on November 13, 2014 at 11:19 am

      Nice, very relevant here 🙂