Good design facilitates effective communication

I follow a few presentation/design related blogs and a quote near the end of one post recently caught my eye, as I think the following is instructive for those of us in the audit business, tasked frequently with presenting the results of our work:

Business presentation design is a blend of practicing good design, and making compromises to deal with the practicality of working with lots of non-designers. Being able to deal with frequent changes, keeping design standards up (also on page 5 to 20), and making sure that everyone can make decent looking edits in the presentation.

Now, I’m painfully aware that the majority of auditors don’t give a hoot about designing a beautiful report or presentation. It’s a reliable source of frustration for me!

But the quote above is something I need to keep in mind when I notice misalignment of elements of a slide or poor structure in a Word document report.

As a profession, auditors are aware that effective communication skills are critical to being able to do our job well and make sure our clients know the value we bring to the organization. The content of our reports and presentations is most important, but good design facilitates effective communication of that content.

Spreadsheets: My thoughts on EditGrid

I recently tried out EditGrid, in response to a post by Dennis on recent enhancements. I had already been using Google Spreadsheets a little bit, but not too much, because, quite frankly, it just wasn’t all that intuitive. I consider myself a fairly advanced Excel user, and Google Spreadsheets just didn’t have the same level of ease of use.

EditGrid screenI blogged about Google’s spreadsheets app before, but never from a personal point of view. I barely used the thing. I had a few random sheets up which I’d authored in Excel, but never really did much editing of them.

(Google Gears may allow one to use the application offline in the future. I think we may see more business usage when this happens. Currently Google Gears is offered for Reader only.)

So, I was open to other options. I’d already decided that I was going to move all my personal documents online, since I didn’t have anything all that confidential personally to protect. My financial data isn’t stored in Excel and if it was, I might be hesitant to upload those files.

I work with Excel so much for work, I thought it would be hard for a web app to make a positive impression on me by comparison. But right away EditGrid presented me with an interface that looks and works reassuringly similar to Excel. The top menu even has those familiar options: File, Edit, View, Format, Insert and Data!

EditGrid looks so much like Excel it is really easy for someone familiar with Microsoft’s spreadsheet software to jump right in and be productive right away, which is something I couldn’t say about Google Spreadsheets. Google succeeds in simplifying every piece of software it releases, but I actually think EditGrid’s strategy works better for what is still a pretty geeky type of software.

And it can’t hurt having some information not firmly in the clutches of Google.

Right now I think EditGrid is a more complete spreadsheet app compared to Google’s, but both still trail Excel in features and ease of use. I’m hoping they can close the gap sooner rather than later.

Corporate intranets and their effects on productivity

A post by Jeffrey Veen talks about the typical corporate IT department and how it influences (negatively) external and internet web projects. The thrust of the post is that a centralized corporate IT department consists primarily of “technologists [more] accustomed to controlling resources and managing services” than user-centered design and the user experience.

I can relate to his findings in my own firm. We have a national intranet as well as an office intranet. The national one was recently updated and looks a bit sharper, although it still clings to using frames to lay out and organize content. More bells and whistles, but still no easier to find what you’re looking for unless you know where it is. In its defence, it has to serve a diverse national firm with large offices in the major urban centres like mine of nearly 100 and smaller offices in rural Canada of less than 10.

But the office intranet is something else. The color scheme is, in a word, hideous, and it makes liberal use of the marquee tag, and probably has looked the same for many years. It certainly looks very Web 1.0, as in Netscape Navigator 1.0. I’ve been toying with the idea of throwing the office intranet into something standards-compliant, use some CSS for the layout perhaps perform radical surgery on the information architecture. I think the standards argument would resonate with accountants.

Maybe once busy season is over.