Quad Charts: A Medium for Ideas
People often search for a basic way to capture an idea and express it to others. However, such a solution is not always easy to find, as it would need to be modular and scalable, yet straightforward. Fortunately, there is a widely used medium called “quad charts” that fits this criteria remarkably well. A quad chart is a professional tool for sharing and communicating the goals, methods, and applications of a particular innovation, while keeping the information simple and concise. Super-Releaser came across them while working with government agencies and contractors, who utilized them in the work we were involved with. We have used them often, both in our own research and while interfacing with companies. Since many of our quad charts have received much interest, in this blog post, we’ll go over what they are, how they are used and what makes them so useful.
In the field, quad charts are used to isolate an idea to its most basic aspects, at which point it becomes easy and clear for any outside person to quickly understand the purpose, means, and applications of a project. There is also the benefit of communication: It is effortless to send an image, making it just as effortless to communicate via quad charts. Additionally, being an image means that no one part of a chart can be separated from the others, preventing information from being out of context and not joined by related information. Lastly, the use of quad charts forms a common language that allows people from different backgrounds and fields to communicate, collaborate, and understand each other's ideas. This is important for outsider groups and people who are working with government organizations as they are speaking on the same terms, which may be difficult to achieve otherwise.
NASA, DARPA, and the U.S. Department of Defense all use them, and contractors have landed projects of high value by communicating with these agencies via their language. The first-ever use of a quad chart was by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for planning and budgeting projects.
As their name implies, quad charts are split up into four different parts. Many quad charts have the following set-up: The top-left box is the innovation itself and covers the central goals of the project; the top-right box is the technical approach, which is a plan of action for how the project will be carried out; the bottom-left box consists of the potential benefits and results, and often holds relevant statistics and demographics relating to the project; and the bottom-right box is an image, which could be concept art, design drawings, or a prototype. The boxes are usually brief and concise; however, much like all aspects of quad charts, the breadth of information is ultimately up to the creator.
Other than the boxes themselves, there is typically a title and references to related people, such as the principal investigator and involved organizations. Despite all of this, quad charts are modular and do not always follow a strict set of guidelines. As a result, there can be many variations on this traditional format, including different and additional boxes. For example, in certain cases, NASA quad charts have a fifth box for anyone looking over the charts to leave notes for the creators or anyone else reading it. In other cases, the image box is exchanged for a box containing budget information or a roadmap for the project. By having room for variation, a quad chart can be made to fit any project.
Beyond government organizations, we can also see makers and groups unassociated with government benefiting from using quad charts. As Kari Love, Super-Releaser’s soft goods engineer put it, “Making a quad chart solidifies what your plan is and what you want to do.” She went on to say, “You realize what your project is and what the potential of the innovation is.” As a result of how versatile they are, they can be useful in a variety of applications.
All in all, quad charts are a medium that can be used by anyone for compiling and expressing the main ideas of a project in a concentrated form. Here at Super-Releaser, we have been using quad charts frequently for all of the previously mentioned reasons. So the next time you are planning a project, an idea, or anything else that you must convey to others, think: How could I use a quad chart?