In the consulting business, it's a rare day that one does not come across several instances of Harvey Balls. Easy to use, cognitively immediate and highly scannable, these little open and closed iconlets provide a rapid way to assess an otherwise unreadable set of table data. Talk to anyone in consulting and they'll know all about these ubiquitous little symbols. Except for one thing: nobody knows why they're called "Harvey Balls".
With forensic webwork, a couple calls to former consulting colleagues, and a little stalking of a Long Island High School's 50 year reunion, I finally managed to track down the originator and spoke to him at some length. Former Booz Allen Hamilton consultant Harvey Poppel created the first balls way back in the '70's as a way to summarize long columns of numeric data for internal project documents. Mr. Poppel was known as the go-to guy when it came to increasing office productivity, and these balls struck him as a time saver. They were such a hit that quickly all Booz consultants were using them, and the rest is history.
Outside of the PowerPoint decks that are the perennial deliverable of consultancies everywhere, the most likely place to spot Harvey Balls in action is at Consumer Reports. CR has become so attached to these iconlets that they've even added one ot their logo.
Should you feel like making your tables more scannable, here's a good place to download some nice ones. They're free. This day, Mr. Poppel has yet to receive a dime for his visual invention.