“There is magic in graphs. The profile of a curve reveals in a flash a whole situation — the life history of an epidemic, a panic, or an era of prosperity. The curve informs the mind, awakens the imagination, convinces.”
— Henry D. Hubbard, Creator of the Periodic Table of Elements
Data has become a wondrous highly accessible tool that we can use to produce compelling narratives through facts. By placing data into a medium more commonly used for narrative development we move beyond the obscure aggregation of information, which only a select number of skilled individuals can interpret, to a unique expression of information that is approachable and understood by the masses.
That said, taking your data into the realm of storytelling is met with some challenges that are otherwise vacant across the more traditional data visualization practices . Of course the initial and most important challenge is piecing your data together in a manner that is conducive with creating that meaningful story. This post will help you get started off on the right foot.
Prepare Your Data
Before contemplating the many ways your data can be visualized and formed into the story you want to tell, it’s best to start from that 30,000-foot view and develop an understanding of all the information that lies before you.
The purpose behind starting at a high level is to find that common thread that will allow you to link correlating datasets. Consequently, this should also help you in deciding which data is not worth using. As commonalities among datasets begin to emerge, you should start to see some potential narratives taking root.
Building Your Path
Throughout the data prepping stage, it’s not uncommon to discover several narrative avenues through which you can navigate your data. Figure out which route is the best for you by looking to your target audience for inspiration.
The data you wish to present should be driven by:
- Information your audience may have already been exposed to
- Your audience’s level of knowledge on the given subject
- The rate at which your audience is able to consume information
Let’s use mobile marketing as an example topic:
The young marketer cutting his teeth on mobile is more apt to seek high-level information. They’ll have more time to gain an overall better understanding of the topic but aren’t quite ready to dive into the more granular details.
The marketing manager would seek more detailed information on consumer habits, trends, and market saturation. Their time needs to be spent on building actionable knowledge with serious attention to detail.
The marketing executive seeks conclusive information that affects the bottom line. They don’t have time to be bogged down by the nitty gritty details.
Smoothing Out the Edges
Once you have your data and audience figured out, it’s a matter of taking another 30,000-foot glance to spot any gaps or inconsistencies in content and end-user alignment. At this stage it should be easy to tweak the narrative and swap out/add data to fill those holes.
Your main goal with using data to tell a story should consist of well-correlated data that aligns with your target audience. Aesthetic, although mission-critical to how your story will be perceived, should be secondary in the sense that form follows function.