Decorative elements in survey reports

Four law-firm research surveys include examples of what what might be called “decorative elements.” Such elements gussy up the pages of the report, add to attraction for readers, contribute visual appeal. A graphical minimalist such as Prof. Edward Tufte might disparage decorative elements as eye-candy without informational nutrition, but others are more aesthetically minded and sensitive to the importance of reader engagement (dare we say, entertainment value of survey reports?).

Law firms want to leave a good impression: good looks and visual creativity lingers pleasingly in the mind. Besides, the designers who lay out the report don’t measure themselves simply by the ratio of ink to information. Artistic sensibilities and design values contribute to a report. Lawyers don’t think in terms of what catches the eye, but desktop publishers do.

Norton Rose Lit 2016 [pg. 4-5 ] nestled a grey piece of a jigsaw puzzle behind its text. The image is hard to spot, but look carefully to the right of the words “litigation trends” in the fourth line of text: a white space and a grey swatch mark part of the slightly-tilted image. Like a musical joke tucked in by a composer, a decorative element can amuse and entice a reader who appreciates it.

Later, in the same report, the firm flew a plane across the lower part of a page [pg. 23]. That visual tidbit may add no informational value, but it draws the eye and tickles the fancy.

Morrison Foerster Privacy 2017 headed each page with a complex visual. Critics might take the firm to task on the grounds that the header distracts; it’s blatant and complex. Others may admire the combination of evocative pictorial elements and a bit of lightness amid a cerebral presentation.

Berwin Leighton Arbvenue 2014 [pg. 10] added a cartoon to one plot. Whether or not you connect the small figure and the data being reported, let alone whether the cartoon makes a point any clearer, at least you notice it. If you notice it, you might also pay attention to the data to its left.

Morrison Foerster Compliance 2015 [pg. 12] bordered its pages with a wash of blue. As with all the decorative elements shown here, you could do away with the blue shading on either side and lose nothing — except a soupcon of color that pleases the eye. To rephrase an old saying, “All metrics and no magic makes survey a dull report.”

Organizational methods in survey reports — an overview

Law firms can choose from a plethora of methods to help readers recognize the organization of the firm’s survey report. To catalog some of those many techniques, we reviewed four reports: Clifford Chance Cross-border 2012, DLA Piper Compliance 2016, Norton Rose Lit 2016, and Berwin Leighton Arbvenue 2014. Among the many methods, the four reports employed at least nine.

Table of contents. Each of the four reports begins with a table of contents. For this traditional map, one of them (Clifford Chance) uses a color coding for each section in the Table of Contents and later in the corresponding report section. Another firm (Norton Rose) embellished the table of contents with graphics . The Berwin Leighton table was a model of simplicity, as we show below.

Introductory letter. Three of the four reports followed the table of contents with a letter from one or more partners of the firm. The letters run a page or two and they highlight the context and importance of the survey’s topic and sometimes how the firm decided to present the material garnered from its survey.

Executive summary. All four reports pull together their principal findings into a one-to-three-page executive summary (one referred to it as “Key Findings”). This technique to consolidate and digest the contents of the report helps readers take away the most important points.

Call-out box. Clifford Chance [pg. 24] uses boxed text to emphasize observations (see the graphic below). More generally, whenever a report puts a border around certain text, and perhaps changes the font color or style (and sometimes locates the call-out box partially in the margin), those visual cues point the reader to information that the law firm deems important.

Case studies. Of the reports, only Clifford Chance’s made use of lengthy case studies. Each about a page long, some focus on the findings for particular sectors, others focus on drilling down within a specific company based on an interview with one of its senior executive.

Visualization guides. The Norton Rose report [pgs. 4-5] creatively shows stylized jigsaw puzzle pieces to explain the framework of how the firm presents its findings. We include below a portion of this method.

Divider pages. Norton Rose published the longest report, at 48 pages, and perhaps because of that length it inserted divider pages before three sections [pgs. 8, 22, and 38]. The divider pages stand out because of their color and the few, bold words that introduce the following section.

Conclusion. Clifford Chance poured in many methods for presenting its findings, and ended with yet another, a conclusion. Conclusions encourage the firm to wrap up its main findings in that closing portion.

Summarized material. This general method covers many variations. For example, you could think of each graphic plot as a summarization of findings. In Norton Rose [pg. 21], as another example, a table lays out “Drivers of Disputes.” DLA Compliance has a prominent section called “What Chief Compliance Officers Need to Know.” In a third variation, Berwin Leighton Arbrevenue 2014 created an infographic [pg. 4]. Many other ways are available to organize ideas and map what is being presented.