It’s 9:00 a.m. on the third Tuesday of the month, time for the monthly meeting of the Steering Committee. To set the rest of the day’s proceedings in perspective, the committee chairman has asked a bright, fast-rising manager—let’s call him Frank—to prepare a brief presentation on the state of the industry in which we compete and our company’s performance as a stepping-stone for new investment opportunities.

Intent on doing a good job, Frank has done much research, worked on his story line, and prepared a series of visual aids to help him say it with charts. Like most of us, Frank realizes that charts are an important form of language. They’re important because, when well conceived and designed, they help us communicate ...

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