Chapter 1 - The Basics

How to Visually Tell a Story: Data Visualization

Data visualization infographics are a little more difficult to create. In article graphics, the visuals are obvious and easily identified through cues. In data visualization, you have to create your own visuals based off of hard data.

Many people have a hard time looking at data and understanding what the data means. They see numbers next to numbers and can’t draw relationships between the numbers and an idea, story, or revelation. They struggle with creating a mental picture that explains the important parts of the data.

But it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Understanding Data Visualization

Data Visualization is the process of:

  1. Finding relationships in data
  2. Finding stories in data (based on the relationships)
  3. Visually delivering the data so that the story is obvious and powerful

Here is an example of relatively uninteresting data about the amount of space taken up by people, cars, buses, and bicycles, and how it can be transformed into a meaningful message through data visualization.

space relationship chart only

1. Find Relationships in the Data

Analyze the data and make observations. An analysis might show:

  • Many more people fit in a bus than in a car.
  • A bus takes up more space than a car and way more space than a bike.
  • Eighty-six cars take up almost ten times more space than one and half buses.

Find relationships in the analysis of the data.

A strong, interesting relationship might be: people traveling by bus as a group take up far less space than those traveling by car as individuals.

2. Find a Story in the Data (Based on the Relationship)

Turn the relationship into a story by connecting it to something that people would care about. Use the relationship to explain or shed a light on something.

A story based on the relationship might be: People living in heavily populated cities should take the bus and avoid traveling by car. It saves a lot of space on the street and prevents congestion.

3. Visually Show the Story

Now that you have a story, find a way to show the story in a meaningful way. Saying that buses save space isn’t that interesting, but showing it is.

This image makes it easier to get the point across because you actually show the audience how much space is saved by traveling by bus. They can see it for themselves and absorb the information more deeply.

space relationship chart

Images Via


Now you can see how showing the data in a visual way is easy when you break down the steps and understand the relationship or story that the data is telling.

But with infographics it is not just about finding the story, it is about delivering it properly. Here are a few dos and don’ts of Data Visualizations.

Use More Numbers and Graphics, Less Words

Data IG .2

Data Visualization infographics shouldn’t need a lot of words to explain their message. The reader should be able to absorb the message on numbers and graphics alone.

Organize Information in a Clean, Logical Way

IG Calculating Your Odds At Roulette

The data in an infographic should be easy to find and absorb. Keep information that relates to each other close together and organized so that readers can easily scan and sort.

Use Graphics that Show Relationships

Infographic Data. 1

Find interesting relationships in data and use graphics that explain the relationship visually. Choose graphics that best represent the numbers.

Don’t Use Images that Misrepresent the Data

Graphics should always accurately represent the data. This bubble chart is an example of how a designer failed to represent the data through images. The designer added purple bubbles to show the growing amount of rice but the designer failed to scale the bubbles based on actual numbers.

China’s bubble should be 6 times Vietnam’s bubble based on numbers, but the purple bubble is much larger than that. The correct sizes in yellow shows how the bubbles should have been scaled based on actual numbers.

Don’t Use Images that Have No Relationship with the Numbers

A percentage plopped on top of a random grid of people isn’t a Data Visualization. This is a bad element of an infographic because there are 70 people in the background and none of them visually represent the 51%. There is not a relationship between the images and the data.

Don’t Simply Write Data Sets Around Images

Graphics and stats on a page don’t define Data Visulization Infographics. Graphics that explain data define Data Visualization Infographics. So images merely set around stats and facts don’t make a good Data Visualization.

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