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Putting Descartes Before the Report: Telling Your Evaluative Story with the Grid Design System

I’m Rose Konecky, Evaluation and Learning Consultant at TCC Group. I’m here to turn you into a creator of visualization masterpieces. Really!

As evaluators, we always have a story to tell, but we sometimes limit ourselves to words (which, of course, are important) and canned chart creators (also important!). I’m here to show you how to optimize storytelling using innovative visual design principles. Don’t worry – a lack of artistic talent won’t stand in your way. In fact, the technique I’m about to describe is more of a science than an art. It is called the Cartesian Coordinate System, and you can leverage it with or without creative abilities using five concrete steps.

This tactic will benefit both evaluators and their clients by ensuring that the data that can be so hard to gather doesn’t land with a thud. Instead, it will unite and convey a presentation’s elements clearly to the intended audience. When presenting evaluation data, we tend to lean heavily on displaying charts and tables and then augmenting them with descriptive text. But you will be able to tell a story more effectively if you weave in these key elements of visual design instead of using that tactic. It also has the added benefit of increasing accessibility, reaching individuals who learn best in different ways.

With increased proficiency in the system, you can use data, words, and images to tell a story, or even call your audience to action.

The following five steps will help to bring structure and balance to your visual communication.

  1. Start with a sheet. This technique requires nothing more than a blank PowerPoint slide – or even a blank sheet of paper.
  2. Add margins. Designate a space along the border of your slide where you cannot put any content. Reserving white space here gives the reader’s eyes an opportunity to rest.
  3. Add an erasable (or delete-able) grid. If you’re working in PowerPoint, draw or paste in light gray grid lines spanning the free space. It should have (approximately) 12 columns, 6 rows, and “gutters” in between. You can create it on your own or use the linked YouTube video to walk you through it. It will look something like this:
  4.  Fill the open squares. Now comes the fun part – content. Your job is to fill the free spaces with key elements or key content, in whatever permutation   you’d like. The only rule is not to stop in the middle of a gutter (the margins between columns). See the example below where I decided on the location of sample content.
  5.  Delete the grid itself. You will be left with a balanced and bold presentation that dazzles the eye. Below is an example of where I adapted a text-only slide using the grid system.

Key Takeaways

  • There are few barriers to use. All you need is an understanding of Microsoft Office programs and something to say! You are ready to make your findings into art.
  • Break the rules sometimes! The only “rule” mentioned above was no content in the gutters. But even that rule can be broken once in a while. In fact, it might result in something equally striking, which would stand apart from previous slides and add visual spice to your presentation.

It’s clear that I’m an evaluator who is passionate about PowerPoint, and I look forward to speaking in person with you about it at the American Evaluation Association Evaluation 2023 Conference poster exhibition session on Wednesday, October 11. It will be very impactful to show rather than tell about this technique, and even have a chance to workshop slides in real-time with audience examples. Let me know if you will be there!

I’d also love to hear about your visualization techniques or share more about our work- reach out at

Additional Resources:

  • Watch the referenced How to Create Slide Design with the Grid” video on YouTube.
  • Visit com for brilliant and royalty-free images such as the chameleon shown above.
  • Visit Coolors if you want a striking color scheme but don’t know where to start.


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