Basic Design For Financial Reporting

With all of the attention-grabbing techno tools available for documents, reports and presentations, it is tempting to load a “paper” with a huge array of charts, graphs, cartoons and clever uses of bright colors.
They can help convey the message, but used injudiciously they can also detract from it.

Speaking during the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) Not-For-Profit Industry Conference, Eric Fraint, president and founder of Your Part-Time Controller LLC, offered his advice on basic design principles.

Basic Design. Keep it simple:

  • Less is more.
  • Minimize “ink.”
  • Eliminate or de-emphasize anything that does not support the story or detracts from it.

Simplifying Tables. Tables with data are often times necessary. But make it easier for readers to get to the story. Take these steps:

  • Eliminate or minimize gridlines.
  • Use color sparingly.
  • Format large numbers to eliminate unnecessary digits (e.g., $12M instead of $12,123,456).
  • Eliminate unnecessary precision to the right of the decimal space (e.g., 7% instead of 7.34%).
  • Eliminate unnecessary $ signs.

Simplifying charts and graphs:

  • Start with a zero Y axis.
  • Minimize color.
  • Eliminate or minimize gridlines.
  • Eliminate unnecessary data points.
  • Minimize use of 3-D.
  • Minimize use of background color and shading.
  • Eliminate or minimize diagonal and vertical legend text.
  • Minimize use of data tables.