Data Storytelling : Why Do We Present Data Like A Maze?

As I am doing more and more work in Data Storytelling, I am coming across examples that are demonstrative of the fact that our ability to data storytell is still at its embryonic stages. There are simple things we agree with in theory but fail to apply.

Here are some slides I have worked with that demonstrate my point.

Data Storytelling Workshops Data Storytelling Workshop

Now, as soon your audiences’ look at this, the feeling they get is very close to feeling one gets when they enter a maze without choice.

Confusion, Irritation, Frustration surfaces.

The first natural reaction of the audience is to stop listening to you because their brain starts to make meaning of what they are seeing. The problem is that these slides don’t really guide you where to look, you are likely to loose interest in the presenter.

So What Should Change? 

My learnings on change we should seek to make in such an instance come from Storytelling with Data by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.

A better way is to draw your audiences attention to where you want them to focus. You have to highlight the important stuff but only the important stuff. Highlighting too much leads to diluting what you wanted to highlight at the first place. In Universal Principles of Design ( Lidwell, Holden, and Butler,2003 ), it is recommended that at most 10% of the visual design be highlighted.

Here are some of the highlighting principles I read in

Bold, Italics, and underlining : Use for titles, captions, labels and short word sentences to differentiate and highlight. Bolding is generally preferred over italics and underlining because it adds minimal noise to the design while clearly highlighting chosen elements. Italics also adds minimal noise, but also do not stand out as much. Underlining adds noise, so it should be used sparingly.

CASE  Uppercase text in short word sequences is easily scanned, which can work well when applied to titles, labels and key
words. Avoid using different fonts as a highlighting technique, as it’s difficult to attain a noticeable difference without disrupting aesthetics.

Color is an effective highlighting technique when used sparingly and generally in concert with other highlighting techniques ( for example bold ) 

SIZE is another way to attract attention and signal importance

As an  Example look at the graph below. A graph similar to this was published by PEW Research Centre article titled, ” New Census Data Show More Americans Are Tying the Knot, but Mostly it’s the College Educated.”

Data Storytelling Workshop and training

If you read the article that accompanied this graph. It is meant to demonstrate that the 2011 to 2012 increase observed in total new marriages was driven primarily by an increase in those having a bachelor’s degree or more. The design above really doesn’t draw your attention to that insight and makes you focus on the 2012 data because it is darker in color.

If we use the color as a strategy to draw attention then the look of this graph could change like this

Storytelling with Data workshop

Now, where do your eyes go straight away? You have focussed audiences attention to where you really wanted it to be.

Don’t make your audience process everything to figure out where they should pay attention, rather direct their attention strategically to the most important part(s) of what you are showing. Create visual hierarchy by emphasizing some elements and pushing others to the background.

Share this article:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Why the QR Code? The answer is in the request below we received from a regular blog reader.

"I attended your story telling course some time back. And I've enjoyed keeping up my knowledge with your blog. You may not have realised however, that the Whole of Government is implementing Internet Seperation. Hence I'm not able to access the links to read your articles. Could I suggest including a QR code in your emails so that I can use my mobile to scan it and gain immediate access to the article? It would be most helpful"