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No, you can't add gradients to a bar - they detract from the message as you know. It's really difficult - the age old "Can you make it pop?" (http://sharpsuits.net/)
Apart from re-education, forced or otherwise, there are some things you could do - for example, if you had a chart that compared percent profit between departments, you could color the bar with sum([profit]) - now I can visually compare both percent and magnitude - where I'm really making my money.
Spacing and careful use of headings with color can help as well. I wish everyone would just read Information Dashboard Design by Few....
See also: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_****
Thanks for that last link! Very entertaining (and true)
That's what I thought, thanks for confirming Alex. Also, thanks for the links - certainly a sentiment I share sometimes.
I will try and maximize my use of spacing and what IS available to meet the requests -
It's funny you say that, because Few is what I've been using. Great book. Certainly doesn't mention graphic design a great deal!