Wednesday 17 January 2018

Friday Five: Storytelling with Data, Five Considerations

Humans are visual creatures and can absorb information faster when it’s presented that way. So, here are five things you need to know in regards to information visualization that will improve your ability to not only present data but read and understand information more effectively (win-win).

1. Big Data

We’ve all heard the term “Big Data” and that it’s on the rise. The challenge is how to synthesize that information and turn it into something meaningful. For me, it’s no longer the rise of data but the rise of the dataviz expert. This is a skillset that is in increasing demand, which has led to the development of new courses, new books, and new thought-leaders.

2. Data Visualization

Why Visualization? Why not just send your data in a table across several slides? After all, that’s what many executives are used to, right? Not necessarily. Data visualization is effective because the human brain is built to consume visual images must faster than if it were to read text.  For example, our brains are designed to identify patterns and thus create meaning out of those images simultaneously. When approaching your data and considering how to present it, keep the Gestalt Principles in mind:  similarity, figure/ground, continuation, closure, proximity and alignment.

3. Working Towards Objectives

Before you even begin to chart or sketch a design, ask yourself: What do I want people to understand with this information? Having clearly defined objectives is essential in building a successful visualization.

“A visualization is a tool and, as any other tool, its form (or forms) need to be adapted to its functions.”  -Alberto Cairo, The Functional Art

4. Representing the Data Effectively

Picking the right chart is also dependent on the objective and what you’re looking to do with your data. Are you looking to make a comparison? Identify trends over time? These questions will also dictate the type of chart or visual approach you choose. For example, if you want to compare and rank volume of conversation between different influencers you would not use a pie chart but rather a bar graph because bar charts allow you to perceive differences without reading the numbers that accompany them.

5. Creating a Narrative

Finally, developing the story and producing a final product involves editing and curating, adding effective titles, providing context and building a narrative around the data. Once your data is charted begin designing a layout that takes the reader through a visual narrative, based on the objective.

Lastly, use titles to draw the reader in while also framing the story and the visualization below it. Label your axis and other data points, as a means to add context. Do not shy away from simple text. Sometimes writing out a compelling data point is more effective then graphing it.

What steps have you taken to best tell a narrative through data?

Image credit: Smithsonian

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