This website uses cookies to improve the user experience. By using our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our cookie policies included in our privacy policy.

5 Tips for Storytelling With Data to Improve Your Charts & Graphs

Create More Persuasive Charts and Graphs

Storytelling with data is an extremely important concept to understand in infographic design. It’s essential to create an infographic that explains your main point and supports your argument in a way that your audience can easily understand.

This video shows you five different tips for storytelling with data to help you create charts and graphs that are both visually appealing and make sense. Watch below to learn more about how your audience reads your charts before you start creating.

9:04 Beginner
Video Transcript

What if I told you that the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every single day? Would you believe me? What if I told you that 90% of all data ever created in the history of the world sprouted in just the past 2 years? Do you believe me yet?

Well, hold onto your brains folks, because both are very, very true. Whether it’s the 13 new Spotify songs or the 600 Wikipedia page edits. Maybe the 527,000 Snapchats or how about 16 million texts – all of these data is created, no, not just in a day, in 60 seconds. 

Which is why we want to let the data scientists decipher this never ending feed of information, but it is important for all of us to know how to present this information in a visually appealing way. 

That’s why I’m here. Hello world! My name is Mike Ploger here with Visme and I’m here to show you how you can create data that appeals to your viewers but also how to create data that tells a story. Let’s get started with these 5 tips for storytelling with data

Before we begin, if you’re interested in how our brains decipher all of this information, check out this video by Visme founder Payman Taei about the science behind how we perceive objects. Believe it or not, our vision is much more complicated than you may have ever thought. But Payman simplifies it with a handful of helpful visuals. 

Difference and Contrast

When it comes to a specific image, there are two things that our brains immediately notice – contrast and patterns. Take a look at our very first image. At first glance, you can only decipher a tree landscape. 

That’s because there is absolutely no contrast in this all black image. But as you start to add in more contrast with purple and yellow, you may notice that now there’s a bear that was there that you couldn’t see before. But it’s hard to have any more contrast than with black and white. 

In this final image, that bear is popping off of the page. This just goes to show that our brains are better at identifying color, rather than shapes. 

Pre-Attentive Processing

Through what is called pre-attentive processing, our brains are constantly gathering information from our environment. Because of this, it’s easier to detect the differences around us. That is especially noticeable in patterns. We just talked about contrast, so in this very first pattern, our brains immediately notice that darker rectangle on the lower left. 

If you take away the contrast, we make one rectangle just a little bit larger, it still stands out immediately. 

Lastly, we take that one rectangle that was a little bit larger and even flip it vertically. It still stands out among the rest of its rectangle friends. This is our brains working for us. 

Tips for Improving Your Charts

Now that we have established how our brains see images, let’s dive into applying this knowledge with creating some effective data visualizations.

Our Eyes Don’t Follow a Specific Order

First, different from reading text, our eyes don’t follow a specific order in reading a chart or a graph. Our eyes don’t go from left to right or from up to down. When reading a graph or a chart, as you can see here, our eyes kind of go really, wherever. 

The pace when looking at a graph or a chart is also very different. We may just glance at one part of the image while glaring at another. This is why it’s so difficult to create a graphic that takes us on a pre-defined visual journey. 

Our Eyes First Focus on What Stands Out

When we look at a graph, our eyes are immediately directed to what stands out. It all goes back to the patterns that we had just discussed. But there should just be one main focal point to your image. 

In this graph, our eyes are immediately directed to that steep climb and peak on the right side of the graph. And after we see the title, we immediately understand that the US incarceration rate has jumped greatly beginning in the 1970s. The best data storyteller will only have one clear message that is effortlessly understood. 

This graph here did a great job of that. 

Our Eyes Can Handle a Few Things at Once

When there are more than five variables present, our eyes perceive all of them as one single whole. This is another reason to simplify your charts and only highlight one single point. This graph here is an example of what not to do. 

You notice the word outage, the gray backgrounds spikes and even that green line going throughout the graph. But what’s the message? A lot of unnecessary time and effort is spent into deciphering what this chart is telling me.

After some time, you can probably figure it out but it would be much more effective if you got rid of that gray background area, and told us the calls received and simply focus on the ratings before and after the outage.

We Try to Find Meaning in the Data

Remember, and I will continue to emphasize this, our brains recognize patterns and in patterns, we find connections. 

Here, the brain assumes the connection between the color orange and top performers and also the orange data points. This leads us to think that the orange data points are the top performers, but that is not the case. This is another poorly executed chart. 

The top performers are actually all those data points in the top right. Which, if you look at it, seems to be mostly the blue data points. 

If you’re using more than one color, you want to assign deliberately. Which didn’t happen here. 

We are Guided by Cultural Conventions

From the time we’re born, we are influenced by cultural conventions. What are these exactly? 

Well, for example, time is read on the line from left to right. Or with colors, red means hot, and blue means cold. The same can even be said with images. 

A scale infers balance or comparison between two different things. If these conventions are ignored, our visuals will become much more difficult to understand. 

This chart is nearly identical to the one that we found back in tip 3, but time is placed on the Y axis. Since time is read on the line from left to right, as we just said, this is much more confusing and much less effective. Keep time on the X axis, trust me. 

Before-and-After Examples

Now this video is not just about improving your chart. The whole reason we’re here is to help your chart tell a story. So let’s show you some before and after examples to help you create some fresh ideas on how to create that next effective storytelling chart. 

Example 1

If you want to look at the number of tickets received versus the number of tickets processed in a year, this chart is not too difficult to read, but is it telling the story for the reason of decline? No. No, it’s not. 

In comes the after chart where you can clearly see the decline in tickets processed. There’s also a lot more room for text, which will help explain the story. 

Two employees quit! That’s your reason for decline. So if I’m the boss, this is a very, very easy decision. Hire two more employees pronto. 

Use this template to get started storytelling with data.

Example 2

In our next example, we have a lot of room for text. But pie charts aren’t always the best solution, especially for the data we have here. The use of one single bar chart makes the info a lot more clear. 

More children were interested in Science after the program, where before they thought Science was just okay. 

Use this template to get started storytelling with data.

Example 3

Once again, we have an ineffective and confusing chart. It’s not clarifying the change in average price per product over time. The reader is forced to go back and forth from the legend to the bars, the legend to the bars. 

But in the second chart, the lines are labeled properly so there is no back and forth. You can see that the trend for each product is recognizable at the very first glance. In any case that you want to show the changes over time, a line graph is probably your best option. 

I like to think of it as timeline.  Maybe that’s just me, but maybe it could also help you too. 

Use this template to get started storytelling with data.

Example 4

Last but not least, our final before chart seems pretty easy to read. However, the conventions that we’ve learned and discussed earlier are not applied properly. The level of interest isn’t organized in descending order. 

Where here in the second chart, the reader understands who’s the most interested versus who’s the least interested in that correct order. Through color and order via a scale, the differences in values are more distinguishable. 

Use this template to get started storytelling with data.

Now that you’ve learned the principles for persuasive data storytelling, create your next chart on Visme’s website. There’s a chart and infographic tool that is completely free. And there’s a wide variety of other visual communication tools at your disposal. 

Also, make sure you subscribe to our channel for constantly updated content. For now, I’m Mike Ploger with Visme helping you Make Information Beautiful.