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Why the “Build” Approach Is Often Preferable to the “Static” Approach to Data

Tony Klapper
By: Tony Klapper

Trial Graphics, Litigation Graphics, Trial Presentation, Demonstrative Evidence, Trial Preparation, Presentation Graphics, PowerPoint, Persuasive Graphics, Infographics, Information Design

by Tony Klapper
(Former) Managing Director, Litigation Consulting
A2L Consulting

For the purpose of telling a story or presenting data, experts have, over the years, suggested two different approaches. I will call them the “static” approach and the “build” approach. The static approach, in the hands of outstanding practitioners of data presentation, can have memorable results. Essentially, it conveys a great many types of information simultaneously, using graphic elements to show the relationship among the different varieties of data.

Long before the advent of computers, French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard, a pioneer in the presentation of data, created brilliant drawings depicting Napoleon’s Russian military campaign of 1812. These are a classic example of the static approach. The drawings, published in 1869, show the size of Napoleon’s army at each point of the campaign, the distance traveled, the latitude and longitude, and other key pieces of information. The acclaimed contemporary information scientist Edward Tufte says Minard’s work is “probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn,” high praise indeed.

Trial lawyers also need to tell stories and present complex data sets to juries. That, in fact, is a good summary of what trial lawyers do. Lawyers and clients sometimes ask us at A2L to use this “static” approach and create a demonstrative that “says it all” in one large graph or chart. However, despite Tufte’s praise for Minard’s classic design, we think that judges and juries often learn better from a “build” approach, which starts with the basics of a story and builds it up incrementally. In our view, there is great benefit to not overwhelming a jury but in reaching a result in baby steps, especially when using a PowerPoint presentation for a jury trial.

If a jury went into deliberations using a Minard-type document, we are not sure that all the jurors would fully see the ramifications of all the data, no matter how skillfully it was presented. In fact, the presentation itself during trial may take too much time and may be ineffective—as the lawyer (or the witness) is trying to orient the jury as to what to focus on and not focus on at any particular moment in the narrative. People tend to learn incrementally, not all at once. When many variables need to be presented – say, corporate earnings and profits, the number of market competitors, and prices over time – we often prefer to start with a PowerPoint with just one of those variables and build it up slowly. Trials are one area of endeavor in which we think the “build” approach may work better than the “static” approach.

Other free and popular A2L Consulting articles related to legal infographics, PowerPoint litigation graphics, PowerPoint presentation for a jury trial, and demonstrative evidence generally:

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