The other day I proudly bought a book about how to display data in a way that is visually pleasing and enables readers to quickly understand what they are looking at. Data visualization is the buzzword, but for me it’s kind of like dissecting pieces of math until I understand and can paraphrase it in English, and can then create “aha” moments on a page. Connecting dots until it creates a clear picture. Dare I say useful art?
Acquiring this book was probably one of my geekier moments, or perhaps it was the elation felt when it arrived. This became evident when a colleague, during a video chat in which I enthusiastically held my new prize up to the screen, politely told me that he hoped I enjoyed it and quickly said goodbye. This reaction was repeated multiple times in various forms, because who really reads a book like that and gets excited about it?
Well, those of us who find ourselves looking at very cool information and want our clients to effortlessly understand the main points. That’s who. At least that’s what I told myself when I put “Storytelling with Data,” by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, into my Amazon cart. The truth is, the title and positive reviews drew me in when I was stumped with how to package an abundance of new data into a cohesive report. I wanted to clearly articulate the reach, impact, and value that would help guide upcoming strategic decisions, but it just wasn’t coming together.
We had just finished a product segmentation study for a client’s upcoming product launch. It measured consumer perception of several potential product names, packaging designs, brand positioning concepts, a couple of flavors, and purchase intent. These were sorted by demographic and psychographic variables that, when interpreted, identified important trends and themes. We had an abundance of useful data with stories that needed telling!
• Don’t get fancy just because you think it will look more impressive.
• Choose the right graphical display for the type of data being presented. For example, line graphs are a great tool for displaying trends over time
• First think about what you want the data to convey, and then put it in context for your specific audience – avoid being too general and don’t be shy about asking more questions about who will see it and how the information will be used. This will inform the format.
• Be able to condense the content to three-minute story, and then further into one key point. Brevity is key.
• Storyboard – this creates a visual framework for the flow of information, creating a clearly-defined outline.
Keep it simple. White space is important. Create a focal point. When you get stuck, reach out to experts who can shed some light and help think about the issue in a new way. Many thanks to Ms. Knaflic for putting me back on the right track!
Knaflic, C. N. (2015). Storytelling with data: A data visualization guide for business professionals (1st ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons