Visual design of roadmaps
Although roadmaps have been widely recognised as visual artifacts for communicating strategic intent, their graphic design is often poorly executed. Common problems include data/information overload (making them difficult to digest), distracting visual clutter (obscuring the key messages), and poor structural layout (so failing to provide a coherent representation).
By adopting and applying relevant design thinking practices, more effective roadmap representations can be generated that articulate concise and meaningful narratives. The challenge is to communicate a significant amount of potentially complex information in an intuitive format, ensuring that the intended audiences can quickly identify and process the pertinent data.
Roadmap visualisations can take a variety of forms. These range from simple tables and graphs, Gantt chart-based schedules and multilayer block diagrams to more expressive forms such as Sankey diagrams, tree diagrams, flow-based pictorials and schematics, even geographic maps and metaphor-based illustrations.
Based on research at the University of Cambridge and validation with industrial partners, a design methodology was developed to help organisations generate impactful roadmap visualisations through appropriately addressing:
- The hierarchical layout of information.
- The depiction of relationships/connections between visual objects.
- The portrayal of strategic narratives.
The design process begins by eliciting the key information that needs to be conveyed so that content can be aligned to audience requirements. The visual form and content of a roadmap must be tailored to specific audiences, whether it is the Board of Directors or an Engineering Project Team, in order for it to be an effective communication medium. It is about providing clarity and sufficient granularity given the intended level of engagement. The use of bespoke views/layers and different presentational objects allows for a configuring of a roadmap's visuals to connect with different stakeholder groups. The approach results in the design of tailored visual representations that are used to present clear, coherent and meaningful narratives.
A 'good' roadmap always conveys a sense of time or the direction of progress. The metaphor of the roadmap is an indicator of its role: 'to map a route between locations/positions'. Roadmap visualisations must capture not only present and future states, but also transitional pathways from the current condition to the desired vision, and these pathways should be readily apparent to the audience. This involves two important mechanisms:
- Narrative sequence (the development of linear storylines, along with convergent and divergent alternatives).
- Narrative contrast (critical plot points where change is evident or where decisions need to be made).
A number of consulting offerings are available:
- Training seminars and facilitated workshops
- Design guidance and art direction.
- Wireframing and templates.
- Design sprints and design studio practice.
- Critiques (individual, group, panel, expert).
- Eye tracking.
Download a sample workshop briefing note and agenda (PDF).