This summary is presented by the IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center

Key Findings

  • Graphs and charts with visual cues, like colours and symbols, that draw attention to key data points are easier to comprehend than those without. People are faster and more accurate when navigating information in graphs when there are visual cues to guide them.

Implications for Public Relations

Additional visual cues in graphs and charts can help people process information more accurately and quickly. Cues like colour draw attention to key information and reduces the information processing load.

This study highlights the importance of graphic design when using graphs or charts to communicate information. Public relations professionals should use graphs when appropriate as they tend to be even easier to understand than numerical displays like charts. Visual cues like different colours or design features should be included to highlight key information and messages. For example, colours can point out values in health information that are outside of a healthy range. It is also important to remember to choose the most appropriate graph type for a given data set, like using line graphs to show changes over time or pie charts to provide a proportional breakdown. Including communications can improve the way information is processed, but communicators can go further by enhance them through the design.


Presentation format impacts how information is processed and used to inform decision making. Therefore, visual design is an important consideration for communication, especially when audiences interpret information on their own. One example of this is consumer health tools that present self-monitoring results like blood pressure, heart rate, or blood glucose level. This information is often used by consumers to get a general sense of their health and track changes or goals. Tao and colleagues examined how different presentations of the same information could led to different perceptions of personal health.

The study compared how older and younger adults processed personal health information from line graphs and charts varied in their presentation of visual cues that alert values outside of a healthy range. The visual cues on the line graphs were either a different colour for the unhealthy data points or a coloured background that indicated the healthy range. For the numeric charts, values outside the health range were a different colour and underlined, or marked with an asterisk.

Compared to versions without visual cues, both graphs and charts with visual cues were rated easier to read and led to more confident comprehension and interpretation. When asked to use the data to answer questions, participants provided with visual cues answered faster and more accurately. Of the different formats, the line graph with the coloured background indicating the healthy range of values was most preferred, suggesting it was the easiest to comprehend. When the visual cues used colour to draw attention to key information, participants perceived the risk to health as greater, suggesting that the salience of the information also influenced risk perception

Older adults had poorer comprehension of the information and took longer to process it when answering question than their younger counterparts, across all presentation formats. However, the use of visual cues improved performance for both older and younger adults. Considering that older adults are more likely to have chronic health concerns, it is especially useful to include visual cues to support their use of personal health information.


Tao, D., Yuan, J., & Qu, X. (2019). Effects of presentation formats on consumers’ performance and perceptions in the use of personal health records among older and young adults. Patient Education and Counseling, 102(3), 578-585.


Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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