So many visual analogies, so little time.
Many great business visuals begin with a great analogy, and someone in the room saying, "Wait, I get it! Your data management system is just like a little city!" (or the universe is like a watch, massive data grows like leaves on a tree, a bank is like a Bento Box [or possibly a Happy Meal in less metro areas]). These statements are usually followed by intense white-boarding. Sometimes the outcome is brilliant -- after all, analogies can be great communication aids.
But sometimes the outcome is less stellar. This is particularly true when the clever possibilities of the illustration become more intriguing than the original problem. It's like spiders on caffeine: there's great enthusiasm for the task, but the final web sucks.
I know. I had just such a moment with a client the other day. They asked me to help them make a customer-segmentation plan more intuitive and actionable. The client had come up with four discrete segments and wanted to map how the four might be best approached from a sales perspective.
One of the client's segments was titled "cash cows" and another "the dogs", so naturally a bunch of barnyard analogies leapt to my mind. Since the client company's brand has a western flair, my "four-horses model" emerged.
Thoroughbreds, mustangs, grazers and sleepers: they summed up the segments perfectly. I tested the model and it met all the segmentation criteria, and the horse symbols in particular struck me as perfect icons: simple, scannable, full of meaning.
I should have known I was in trouble when it was four horses that came to my mind's eye. Well guess what? The client didn't like it... and not because they interpreted my chart as representing war, pestilence, famine and death. No, they didn't like it because the cleverness overwhelmed the meaning. And they were right.
I went back and redrew the model with basic geometric shapes and they worked just fine.
*sigh* I really liked that sleeping horse icon, though.