By Andrew Dombroski

In a culture of .gifs and memes, graphics have become the standard when you want to make a point. This is just as true on social media platforms as it is in the courtroom or at arbitration, and construction attorneys have taken note. Graphics are now a necessity when presenting a myriad of complex issues in construction disputes, from the impact of schedule delays to design defects. While technology has made the creation of graphics easy, creating effective and compelling graphics remains a challenge. An effective graphic simplifies complex issues, educates, and enhances your case. The development of compelling graphics requires thoughtful consideration of your audience and a clear, concise message. The following outlines some considerations when developing graphics for use in various forums.

Know Your Audience

Studies show that we remember what we see better than what we hear. The use of construction related jargon and presentation of complex processes can further hinder your audience’s ability to retain important information and key take-aways from your case. Demonstratives can help to bridge the communication gap, which may be significant based on the forum.

The technical knowledge of your audience will dictate the level of complexity of your demonstrative. For mediation, both sides of the dispute have an understanding of the issues, which allows for the freedom to present graphics that are more complex. However, if your goal is to educate the mediator, you will also need to consider the mediator’s level of knowledge.

Graphics for arbitration should be relatively simple. Typically, arbitrators understand the basics of construction and claims, but likely have little or no knowledge of the project or the issues of the case.

At the other end of the spectrum are trial demonstratives. In a trial, the judge may have very little construction knowledge and it’s a safe bet to assume jurors have zero understanding of construction, the law, or construction claims. Therefore, your demonstratives need to present your case in a simple, non-technical way. Jurors will also need to be entertained – in a world of 140 character tweets, attention spans are short and you will want to keep your audience engaged with graphics, charts, videos, and animations.

Tell Your Story

Once you’ve assessed your audience and their level of knowledge, you can move on to your story and how to best present it. Developing demonstratives without a specific goal often results in a graphic that is overly complex, confusing, and possibly unnecessary.

A compelling graphic begins with a strong story. Start by asking yourself a few key questions:

  • What am I trying to say?
  • What are the key points in my case?
  • Which tool will best fulfill the need of the graphic?
  • What terms and concepts need defined before my audience can understand the details?

If you’re outsourcing your graphics, these are questions that will likely be asked of you, so consider them in advance. Handing a sketch or a few bullet points to your graphics professional with little or no context is likely to be the start of a frustrating relationship. There are many ways to present information, but the most effective visual will come from a clear understanding of what you are trying to convey.

Keep it Simple

A word of caution: while demonstratives can enhance your case, they can also undermine your point when done poorly. Regardless of the format, your goal should be a simple and concise graphic. Here are some things to look out for:

Presentation Slides

Do not be tempted by all of the animation and sound effect options built into presentation software. Use these extra flourishes sparingly and only if they help to drive home and/or clarify your point. Another common mistake when using presentations is to attempt to include every word that you want to convey on a single slide. Stick to a single theme per slide and avoid long lists of text. If you include a bullet point slide, keep your points brief, concise, and focused on your key opinion.

Charts

Putting too many ideas into a single chart can be distracting and draw attention away from the critical point that you are attempting to make. Charts that incorporate multiple axes, text, and 3D effects detract from your point. Removing excessive lines, extra text, redundant titles, distracting colors, drop shadows, or other pointless elements will keep your story intact while pushing your point to the surface. Color should not be added as an afterthought. A powerful tool, color can help draw attention, infuse emotion, and make your demonstrative easier to understand.

Timelines

The ability to see the relationships between multiple events or to visualize a complex process can be eye-opening for both the juror and/or the trier-of-fact. For disputes that are dependent on how different events occur relative to each other, a timeline is a great visual tool. Effective timelines keep the audience focused on key events and/or dates. Therefore, you should restrict your timeline to show one or two events at a time, include only key events, and stick to a single theme. Avoid excessive amounts of text, which can detract from your key point.

Animations

When a stand-alone graphic will not suffice, 3D animations may be instrumental in demonstrating something that was not photographed or a concept that is complicated. Construction drawings are complicated and schedules are even more confusing for an average person to understand. Animations, however, allow everyone to understand where and when things were happening. Animations, as with other video clips, should be kept short, demonstrating one issue or concept at a time. Compelling animations should avoid excessive camera movement or transitions which make it difficult to follow. While simplicity is the goal, make sure it doesn’t come at the expense of accuracy.

Conclusion

Graphics can help you reach your audience and tell a compelling story, but they can be done poorly. A careless demonstrative can draw attention away from the key points of your case. To use graphics well, develop them thoughtfully, and keep them simple.

About the Author

Andrew Dombroski is a Technical Animator and Consultant for The Rhodes Group.

Articles published in The Expert Report are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the policies or opinions of The Rhodes Group. The Expert Report may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the publisher.