5 Ways to Let Your Data Tell the Story

People love stories. It’s the way our brains are wired. That’s why anecdotes are such powerful tools of persuasion.

If I tell you a story about a friend who got mugged a few years ago in a big city, all the statistics in the world about how crime rates are falling probably won’t convince you it’s safe.

Personal experience matters more to our brains than numbers.

Data is about facts, not stories, and that often makes it seem boring (and, ironically, unconvincing). Our brains just aren’t very good at handling large amounts of data to evaluate things like risk. They need a narrative to hold all the pieces together.

If you want your data to be convincing, you have to let it tell a story. Of course, it’s important that the data guides the story and not the other way around.

But if you want the numbers to stick, you have to weave them into a framework that will anchor all the pieces together and make them persuasive.

Here are five places to start when you’re looking for the story in your data (examples from this post on creativebloq).

  1. Make a Comparison

1aClick to see the full infographic.

Isolated data is boring—it’s comparisons that tell the story. Are sales up compared to last month? Are there spiders on planet earth than people? Put the comparison front-and-center if you want it to stand out, whether you’re preparing a slide deck, a presentation, or an infographic.

Comparisons also help people engage because most people already have an opinion. Setting up a comparison brings peoples’ existing opinions into play and invites them to take a position and then see if it’s backed up by the data.

  1. Encourage Curiosity

Data is beginning to answer questions we never even used to ask. Questions are a natural hook for people’s attention and feed into existing stories by offering additional information.

Think about all the questions wearables have started making people ask. What is my heartrate when I’m running rather than sitting? How many steps am I taking each day?

1bFitbit started this infographic with an interesting question—at least, interesting to fitness buffs.

Encourage questioning before you get to the answer, and explain why the question matters if it’s one people may not have considered before.

Pique their curiosity before explaining the answer, because once you’ve got people thinking and wondering, the data will start to make sense before you’ve even presented a single number.

  1. Draw Conclusions

1cWhich format is better for web and which for print? If you read to the end, this infographic spells it out.

Don’t make viewers hunt for your point. Conclusions should emerge naturally from the data, but they should also be clearly present. Data is only as useful as the conclusions we draw from it.

You don’t have to hit your audience over the head with it, but if the data strongly lends itself to a point of view (our current policy isn’t working; there’s a big opportunity emerging in a new sector; we are headed for catastrophe), say it!

1dMake sure the conclusion follows the data, but don’t be afraid to draw that conclusion!

  1. Track the History

Showing changes over time can be a powerful way to organize your data and allow for breakthrough insights. It puts information in context and tells a linear story, the same way we experience everyday life.

It’s an easy narrative structure for people to grasp.

1eThis chart is a bit complicated, but it follows an easily-deciphered logical structure and guides the viewer through the map using elegant lines.

  1. Find the Missing Piece (or Bring the Pieces Together)

1fThis infographic puts all the pieces together when it comes to energy efficiency.

If your data fills a gap in existing knowledge, it’s like putting the last puzzle piece in place—a very satisfying feeling. Set the stage with the existing data, and then show the missing component.

Explain why that piece of information was so difficult to obtain. Alternatively, for complicated topics, break them down into easily-digestible pieces that bring individual pieces into a cohesive whole.

Whatever your data, finding engaging ways to turn it into a story will make it more memorable, easily digestible, and even more convincing.

5 Data Visualization Blogs You Will Fall In Love With

If you work in graphic design or any sort of visual communication field, you’re intimately familiar with terms like data visualization, information design and big data.

It’s easy to forget that most people don’t really know what this stuff is. Truth is, data visualization is still a new discipline.

But it’s working its way into a bunch of different fields, and the world of information design is getting more exposure everyday.

That’s why we love any blog that’s dedicated to sharing data viz tools and tips – or just beautiful examples of data design in action.

There are so many awesome information design blogs, but these are our five favorites (in no particular order):

1. Flowing Data

Why We Love It: This blog goes way beyond posting pictures of infographics. It’s full of awesome data-driven projects like multivariate beer brewing and mapping the most popular races by country.

Favorite Post: The Subway sandwich map takes the cake (or hoagie). It shows just how much Subway is dominating the sandwich game in America.

Subway Sandwich Domination

Nothing against Subway but, for the record, we’re partial to the sandwiches at So’s Your Mom (not just because it’s across the street from our office).

2. Visualising Data

You might be thinking that we spelled “visualising” wrong, but this is how they spell it across the pond in the UK, where freelance data guru and blogger Andy Kirk resides.

Why We Love It: Andy uses a bubble chart to display his top 100 most popular posts. Talk about practicing what you preach!

Visualising Data top posts

Favorite Post: It’s hard to pick just one, but this post about using grey in your visualizations is a must-read.

3. Information is Beautiful

Why We Love It: Because, like founder David McCandless, we think that information should be designed in a way that is useful – above all else. We don’t share David’s hatred for pie charts, although we do love pie.

Favorite Post: We’re fans of the Best in Show dog data chart. It uses orientation, size, shape and color to pack a ton of data in a small space.

Best in Show dog infographic

Plus it confirms our belief that Chauncey is, in fact, a “hot dog”.

4. Cool Infographics

Why We Love It: Truth be told, we think the term “infographic” has lost its luster over the past few years, mostly because the web has been flooded with infographics that often leave something to be desired.

But, Cool Infographics is a very cool blog run by a guy who loves data viz just as much as we do – Randy Krum.

Our Favorite Post: Randy recently posted an infographic from Tabletop Whale that teaches you how to make animated infographics (meta, we know). In a saturated market, bringing your infographic to life with animated GIFs is one surefire way to stand out.

Animated Infographic

How cool is that?

4. Infosthetics

Why We Love It: First off, Infosthetics is an awesome name for a blog. Second, this site has a vast archive data visualizations, from charts about dissapearing amphibians to urban math art.

Pi visualized

Our Favorite Post: We think that Carlo Zapponi‘s interactive GitHut map is fascinating. It shows the relationships and range of programming languages “used across the repositories hosted on GitHub”.

GitHut

We’re still dissecting what exactly that means, but this visualization sure is fun to play with.

5. Chart Porn

Last but certainly not least, Chart Porn is one of our favorite curated collections of beautiful maps, charts and graphics.

Why We Love It: Partly because it’s run by a fellow Washingtonian, Dustin Smith (yup, we’re biased, but at least we’re aware of it). But also because it helps us discover amazing visualizations that we might otherwise miss.

If you could only read one data viz blog, Chart Porn is a solid option.

Our Favorite Post: If we have to choose just one, this interactive Wizards’ shooting graphic from the Washington Post is it:

Wizards shooting graphic

Beautiful colors, clean design, data driven… plus it’s about the Wizards. Did we mention we’re from DC?

Now you know our top five data visualization blogs. What are yours? Leave a comment below!