RTi’s Chief Meaning Officer, David Intrator, recently brought to our attention a YouTube critique of the open-source music notation software called MuseScore, and thought it could shed some light on how market researchers might better design their reports and presentations.
Intrator, a musician himself, was referring specifically to an episode on Irish composer Martin Keary’s YouTube Channel, Tantacrul, in which he goes step-by-step into MuseScore’s pros and cons.
Before we get into the critique per se, and the lessons we can learn from it, let me first explain a bit about music notation software for those of you who are not composers like Intrator.
Wrangling Data Can Be A Daunting Task
For centuries composers wrote their scores by hand. In recent times, like everything else, this process has become digitized. A number of notation apps have been developed, but as Keary notes, none of them has emerged as the clear standard. In fact, complaints within the musical community abound, with some composers reverting back to hand notation as a more efficient solution.
This might have to do with the complexity of musical notation itself. A tremendous amount of information and options needs to be included in even the most basic notation app. What often results are confusing, cluttered screens creating frustrating navigation and usability issues.
In short, we’re dealing with a great deal of data, which needs to be properly organized into what one would call a story.
This is where the overlap with research presentations comes in. We, too, need to organize our data in a way that is easy to navigate and understand. Data that tells a story.
And that’s what design is all about.
Design Is Not About Making Things Pretty
Early on in his video, Keary notes that design is often misunderstood to be concerned primarily with making things look pretty, as a cosmetic layer that sits atop functionality.
Without doubt, making things look attractive is part of what designers do. But what makes things look attractive is, above all, coherence and clarity. The best designs – whether they’re for consumer products, software apps or research presentations – make it easy for us to understand what they mean and how to use them. They communicate with us in a way that feels intuitive and natural.
How a PowerPoint slide in a market research report, for example, is composed – the number of elements, their relationship to one another, the choice of fonts and colors – all of these should be designed in a way to make it simple for the audience to understand. Good design, in fact, is imperative in turning data into meaning.
Design can then be seen as something that guides us, helping us feel that we’re in good hands on a journey through a mass of data.
This idea of guiding brings us to Keary’s next point, namely, navigation.
Navigation Is Key
Keary spends some time critiquing how users move through MuseScore. In some cases, it’s unclear what certain icons indicate, or where to go next to complete an action. (For an even more in-depth critique of navigational horrors, check out his assessment of the Sibleius notation program.)
This, too, is a good concept to keep in mind when designing a research presentation. When we look at a page, for example, where do our eyes go? Are we guided along, or are we confused as to what to look at first? Navigation can also apply, broadly, to a video presentation. Does each scene follow logically from what preceded it? Are we confused by what transpires, or enjoying moving along a path to understanding? Overall, does the presentation flow?
And Don’t Forget The Details
Keary’s third and final point is the importance of detail in design. Our takeaway from his discussion is this: There are always many details, but there are no “little things that don’t matter”; every element either supports the story, or it distracts from the story; there is no middle ground.
Unintentionally misaligned objects on a PowerPoint slide, for example, can take our mind away, however briefly, from what is trying to be communicated. They interrupt the flow. Using too many fonts or too many colors can also take us out of the moment. In contrast, having a presentation that’s clean and clear reinforces that sense that the reader is in good hands, and that the presenter is committed to the message being communicated.
So Next Time You’re Creating A Presentation, Think Musically
Although Keary’s critique is about a music notation app, and not musical composition itself, his perspective is musical. He’s concerned with flow, with the importance of data points fitting together into a logical narrative, and like a great melody, with the kind of simplicity that communicates on an intuitive level.
For a market researcher creating a presentation, thinking in terms of music, as abstract as that seems, can actually be a path to creating meaning from data.
In short, it might be best not to think about what you want to say but, rather, what you want to sing.