This article was written by Abbey Heflin, and edited by Kimberley Barker.
Humans have long utilized story as a means of sharing important lessons and information. Though the medium has changed with time and technology, the basic idea of using story to communicate something important hasn’t. And, while this method began within family and tribal units, it quickly spread to the worlds of education and commerce; marketing professionals realized that, in order to capture and keep customers’ loyalty, they had to tell their product’s story. Academics and other non-profit organizations also realized the value of storytelling as a method of communicating the data generated by their work and have increasingly turned to a more modern format- data visualization- as a way to share their work.
Are you intrigued, but intimidated by the word “data”? You shouldn’t be! You don’t need any specialized training nor do you need to be a coder in order to become a master storyteller via data visualization. All that you need is an understanding of your data and three simple guidelines.
#1 Know Your Audience:
Understanding who you hope to reach is the guiding principle for your visualization’s design. Knowing who you are presenting to will play a huge role in how you create your visualization. If your audience is a group of statisticians, you can bet that they will want to dive more deeply than will a group of middle- managers who just need a basic understanding of a topic in order to make an important decision. Something else to consider is what fuels your audience – what are their needs, desires, and fears? Are they mostly concerned about their budget? Do they want to begin offering a new service? Are they afraid of change? Don't hesitate to ask your target audience questions in order to gain a better understanding of its needs.
#2 Simplify To Enhance:
Keep your visualizations simple and comprehensive. There are more consumers of data visualizations then there are creators, so understanding readers’ processes can be very beneficial: typically, readers will first ask themselves what your visualization is showing them. Next, they will overlay a personal interpretation on it. Lastly, they will decide what it means to them, personally. Data visualization is all about facilitating understanding, so be sure that your visualizations are clear, accurate, and can be understood quickly.
#3 Don’t Be Tricky!
Your visualization will provoke thought, emotion, and change! It is vital that you not make your own assumptions, mislead your readers (deliberately or accidentally), or hide important content. You should always tell your readers where your data comes from, and, if possible, how they can gain access to it (for example, post a link to the data on the visualization itself). Encourage your readers to review the data for themselves and offer to discuss it in more detail with them once they’ve studied it.
The Claude Moore Health Sciences Library has recently begun using infographics to share its impact (sometimes to present a snapshot of events and services in the library, and sometimes to highlight a specific service). You can see the Library’s infographics (along with its dashboard) on the Health Sciences Library Dashboard and Analytics page.
Infographics are a great way to share your data and tell your story. If you would like to try it for yourself, Piktochart or Venngage offer limited subscriptions for free! Need help getting started? Contact Abbey Heflin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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