Three data visualization strategies for effective visual storytelling

At Innovation Enterprise's Data Visualisation Summit 2018 in London, representatives from The Times and The Economist discussed how they ensure effective storytelling by using data visualizations, and shared tips that can be leveraged by anyone


During Day One of Innovation Enterprise's Data Visualisation Summit in London, The Times interactive news editor Sam Joiner, and The Economist head of data journalism Alex Selby-Boothroyd and data journalist Marie Segger discussed strategies for effective information delivery within data journalism. Their discussion touch not only on strategies for news outlets but also on solutions that could be employed by any organization and business.

Outlined below are three strategies to come out of the discussion for creating effective stories with data visualizations:

In storytelling, data journalists must place the reader at the heart of the story

During the Data Visualisation Summit, The Times interactive news editor Sam Joiner discussed leveraging data analytics for interactive journalism and placing the reader at the heart of the story.

"Rather than words or pictures, we try and find new mediums through which to tell stories to readers to bring things to life for them," Joiner remarked. "Anybody who uses our site, pays to use it – so rewarding our readers is vital."

Today, The Times is a subscription-based news outlet using a paywall model, so creating stories that interact with its audience is key in its information delivery. Joiner said that readers who interact are The Times' most important subscribers.

"We consider how young people consume content via social media such as via Instagram stories and we try to work out how to convey a complex story such as the Syrian refugee crisis through that process. We try to figure out if we can use a Stories template on Instagram in five or six slides," he said.

Joiner said that The Times tracks engagement, analyzing what its readers were doing and how many articles they were reading.

"Instead of looking a page views, we analyzed audience level of comments and interactivity", Joiner remarked.

To place the reader at the heart of the story, Joiner outlined six key strategies:

  • Engage with readers directly.
  • Create radar-focused datasets.
  • Guide readers through complex data.
  • Localize a national story.
  • Challenge preconceived notions.
  • Learn about your readers.

In order to place the reader at the heart of the story, do not hide complex data

The Economist head of data journalism Alex Selby-Boothroyd and data journalist Marie Segger stated that charts need to earn their space on the page and journalists need to know how much information to incorporate within the graphic in order to create effective charts.

"It's a daily battle but in the last few years we have got very good in figuring out how much information to incorporate within data visualization graphic, and in knowing what the reader understands," they said.

In placing data visualization within a story, Selby-Boothroyd and Segger said the focal point should be that it needs to convey the intended story. Furthermore, they stated that charts should not be seen as "page furniture" but instead should convey information which cannot be expressed by text.

Their tips on data visualization in storytelling included:

  • Say one thing clearly.
  • Do not overwhelm.
  • Help the reader.
  • Know your audience.
  • Be efficient.
  • Break the rules.

Make sure your data visualizations are socially friendly to adapt to social media sharing

Every social media channel works with different formats. In socializing data graphics, formats of the various social channel needs to be taken into consideration, according to Economist data journalist Marie Segger. To ensure effective delivery of their data visual graphics, Segger said that at The Economist, her team had developed a solution when posting data visualization graphics on their social media channels which they call a "Social Chart".

Segger said: "It is important to go beyond clicks and likes: transparency is important in the data community and we want to have a conversation about our charts and stories. We try to present our charts in videos, to create GIFs of interactive charts and then to repackage our content."

Social sharing rules according to Segger:

  • Open with an eye catcher.
  • Do not dump the data, tell a story.
  • Simplicity is key.
  • People love maps.

In conclusion, she said that people only spend seconds on social media and within those seconds they need to get the intended information.

To hear more insights from data visualization experts, visit next year's Data Visualisation Summit in London on May 2 - 3, 2019, London

Find out more HERE

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