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How can my data tell a better story?


As an anthropologist, I almost always find myself drowning in more data than I bargained for. A survey, interview and a week-long diary study with 15 people can give me, on average, 30 different statistics, 30-40 audio recordings and over 150 photographs of daily life. All this on top of the thematic organization of the information into personas, customer journey maps, jobs-to-be-done etc. You get the drift. It's a LOT of information. And quite frankly, it can be an overkill for anyone other than the primary stakeholder seeking out this information.

Yet, to think that somebody actually took the time of day to share their life with me, to virtually invite me to their dinner table or kid's playtime, to send me audio logs of how their day was going - this is the stuff of life that demands better storytelling from me, the researcher. So how does one transform experiences into a story? Through some simple visual upgrades.

Here are three different ways of representing the same information - in this case that 69% of non-veg eaters switching to vegetarian diets during the Covid-19 lockdown in India.

Each picture above conveys the same message differently. Importantly, all three incorporate visuals to tell a story. Let me break down the pros and cons of each below:

Picture A: Most straightforward. For a more conservative report that will reach the hands of a diverse group, this is a straight shoot.

Picture B: Tongue-in-cheek. Ideal for a social media audience. Requires some copy writing prowess but will get you great engagement.

Picture C: Detail-driven. Ideal for strategists looking for deep-dives. Here you see that the frequency of eating non-veg was much less two weeks into the lockdown but you can also see the types of dishes, ingredients, plating and accompaniments for each meal. What's that saying? A picture is worth more than a 100 words.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Time lapses, video logs, and audio logs offer other types of sensory transformations for your data. But just as Cinderella's ill-fated stepsisters discovered, no one size fits all. How you use visuals to tell your data-driven story depends on a couple of things:

  • The type of data you collected. Are you sitting on statistics, pictures, videos, short answers, long answers or audio recordings will give you different fodder for representation. Numbers can be transformed into pictographs, photos give you grids, videos give you highlight reels. The playing field is enormous.
  • Your target audience. This will impact the visualization technique as well as the copy accompanying it.
  • Your budget. Think of our homey pie chart as the very tip of the tip of the iceberg that is data visualization. There are some really cool ways of showcasing data out there. Some visualization are easily hackable, others will require experts to swoop in.
  • How much time you have. This ties into the previous point. Creative thinking and doing can be time consuming and if time is money for you, then focus on re-presenting (like Picture C) rather than transforming (like Picture B or even better, like this).

At the end of the day, this is about having fun with data... about activating the left and the right sides of your brain so that someone else feels energized about what you've produced. Oh, the stories there are to share!

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