There are three key ingredients required for telling visual stories with data. - See the data: Can we see the patterns, the deltas and the outliers in the data? - Show the visual: Can we show it in a way that turns that insight in to an engaging visual? - Tell the story: Can we tell it in a narrative that would explain it to the audience and allow them to connect with it?
We need all three. Visuals and stories without data is art. Data and visuals without story is graphs. Stories and data without visual are tales. We put them all three together and we can possibly hit the sweet spot.
Journalists have realised this for some time and if we look at The New York Times’ or The Guardians’s data-driven stories, we can see them executing it quite regularly. Journalists are not trying to hide behind being too right-brained to see the data analytics and show the visual in their stories, at least not all of them. They are trying to find ways to weave the data in to the story.
But businesses are a different story. We are in this post MBA world and would like to believe that data literacy is a given. No executive in a business would own up that he or she does not understand the metrics and the analytics behind his company’s financials. At least, he or she is been constantly asked (and trained) to learn about data-driven business operations and strategy. However, many of these same executives would be more than happy to turn around and say that they are too left brained and don’t understand this ‘design’, ‘visual’ or ‘story’ stuff. How is it that this is still an acceptable state?
“I think people have begun to forget how powerful human stories are, exchanging their sense of empathy for a fetishistic fascination with data, networks, patterns, and total information… Really, the data is just part of the story. The human stuff is the main stuff, and the data should enrich it.” - Jonathan Harris
It is the aesthetic experience of the story and the visual which captures the whole of the mind. We miss out if we only focus on the power of logos (logical) through data and appeal to the intellect. We forget the power of pathos (emotional) and even ethos (credibility), which visuals and stories bring by engaging our visual and our aural senses.
We can all tell a good story, if we appreciate silence. We can all create a good visual, if we appreciate white spaces. We just need to learn the art of listening and observing again. I don’t think it is hard. We were all doing it so well when we were children. We just need to find that right brain again and bring it to work.
17 September 2013