BCG builds high-quality slides for their clients, following a set of principles around structure and design.
Consulting firm’s are well regarded as master slide designers. At firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG, consultants are taught how to structure and design slides that convey insights with maximum clarity. In today’s post I’m going to review a slide from BCG to show what tools and tricks they use to make the slide so clear and effective.
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The slide in question comes from a presentation called “Evaluating NYC media sector development and setting the stage for future growth” – which from what I can tell is a project BCG did in May 2012 for the New York City Government. If you want to check out the full presentation yourself you can find it on the New York City government’s website.
“Evaluating NYC media sector development and setting the stage for future growth” BCG, May 2012
The first and most important thing to notice about the slide is how well it’s structured. There’s a very clearly distinguished title at the top, subtitles that stand out, and bullets below the subtitle that are organized into different subcategories.
And none of this is an accident – it’s all a well thought out approach to organizing the information in a way that maximizes understanding. The underlying idea that supports this is the Pyramid Principle – which if you’re not familiar is just a way of communicating information where you start by providing your main point first, then breaking that out into logically organized supporting points (see our video breakdown of the Pyramid Principle here).
When most people talk about the Pyramid Principle they usually think of it as a way to communicate verbally, or maybe they think of it as a way to structure the outline of an entire deck (i.e. creating a storyboard), and those are definitely important applications. But what’s happening here is that BCG is using the Pyramid Principle to structure an individual slide.
Look at the title of the slide for example. Just like the top box of a pyramid this provides a summary for the entire slide. Then the next level is the subtitles, which directly support the title, and then below each of those you have additional details. A chart is a little harder to visualize in a pyramid but for the subtitle on the right the layers are very clear.
And the whole point of organizing the slide in this way is to make it easy for the audience to follow your messaging and logic. I can look at this and immediately know what the main point is – that Media VC has exploded in New York City over the last 10 years.
Then if I want to know how it’s exploded I can look to the two subtitles–> VC investments have increased, and the investor and startup communities are beginning to thrive. And I can keep making my way down the layers of the slide to understand their reasoning and logic.
Then in addition to organizing the slide according to the Pyramid Principle, they’ve also given us some very subtle visual cues to help guide us through the slide. You want your audience to process the layers of the slide in the way I just did naturally (highest level to most detailed level). This ensures you have the right context for the slide before getting into the details. They want you to make sure you know what you’re looking for.
To do this, they’ve made the title the most obvious part of the slide – essentially saying “HEY, look here first.” They do that by putting it at the very top, making it green when most of the rest of the slide is black, bolding it, and making sure it’s the largest text on the slide.
Then next they want you to look at the subtitles, which is why they’ve made them the next biggest font on the slide, and also included an underline to make them pop. But notice how they’re not green, because they don’t want you to read them before you read the title (remember, hierarchy is key to understanding).
Although you may not have realized it, BCG is using subtle visual cues to make sure you process the information on the slide in the way they want you to process it. Starting with the highest level idea, then working your way into the details. It’s a small detail but it’s very effective.
Alright now let’s talk about the chart on the left hand side of the slide. A very important part of creating an effective slide is data visualization, and BCG has done a pretty good job of it here. From the subtitle we know that the main point that they’re trying to show in this chart is that Media and Entertainment VC investments are increasing sharply in New York. So the part that really matters is this blue part at the top of each of the columns, because that’s what represents New York’s VC investments into Media and Entertainment. And they’re right – you can see it increasing over time with the first few years under a hundred million, but then it jumps into the two hundreds and the last one is almost six hundred million in VC investments.
So what they’ve done that’s really effective is they’ve put attention on the part of the chart that matters most. Although their default color scheme is green and most of the chart categories are shown as a shade of green, they’ve made the one they want you to focus on an obvious shade of blue so that it stands out. Just as with the structure of the slide this is another subtle point, but it helps the audience understand the message more clearly.
Then another thing that’s great about this chart is this added row of numbers down at the bottom, which show the percentage of all VC investments in Media and Entertainment that New York City accounts for. This is something that all consulting firms tend to do pretty well, which is to add additional information on top of or next to the chart to emphasize their point more clearly.
Plus another great thing they’ve done here is put the category names right next to the column, rather than having one of those legends with different boxes of each color. It’s way easier this way than having to look back and forth between the legend and the slide. Little things like this really make a difference.
Another interesting thing is the type of chart they chose to use. Any time you use a column chart – whether it’s a stacked column chart like this one or just a regular column chart with one category – the thing that’s going to get the most attention is the height of the columns. In this chart the height of the columns represents the total amount of VC investments by all the cities, not just New York.
So even with the blue accents, which again are helpful, my first thought is to look at the trend of the actual columns themselves – total investments start at around 500 million, but then end up over at around 2300 million. It’s not that I can’t still see the point I need to see – which is that VC investments in New York are growing, but it almost seems secondary from a visual standpoint.
So the chart is fine if they are okay with me first seeing the total amount of VC from all the cities, but if they instead wanted to emphasize the percentage NY makes up of all the cities (basically the information in the table below the chart), a Mekko chart might have been better. But I won’t say for sure that one of those is a clear winner – it really just depends on what they’re trying to emphasize.
Then the last thing on this chart that I think is actually a surprising mistake is the lack of supporting details. Most notably, there’s no mention of units anywhere on the chart. I already know that this is in millions just from context cues elsewhere on the slide, but adding units is definitely a best practice and feels like a big miss for BCG here. Consulting firms are usually quite good at this sort of stuff.
The right side of the slide looks pretty good. They kept it simple with the text but then again used some bolding to help make the higher level points stand out more than the lower level points. The pyramid structure is apparent at every level, with the subtitle as the top level of the pyramid, the three bolded points as the next layer, and the bullet points providing the supporting details of the bottom layer.
Well done BCG.