How many times have you sat in a room listening to data-filled presentations “supported” by line graphs, venn diagrams, pie charts, and PowerPoint slides crammed with more numbers than Don Juan’s little black book?
Okay, I may be verging on hyperbole — point being, the presentation ends and you haven’t heard a word.
You listened to everything. You heard nothing.
Why? The data was not presented in an interesting way. It didn’t come together to create a cohesive message.
What happened to storytelling?
We recently moved to a new office — a shared space with XPLANE, a Design Thinking agency. Although our day-to-day work is fairly different, we have common goals, and we have a lot to learn from one another. For example, they are really, really, really good at telling stories. They can take boring, mundane statistics and bring them to life, weaving takeaways into a visual story that makes sense and sticks with you long after the presentation.
On the first Thursday of each month, the XPLANErs host a VTS (Visual Thinking School) workshop at our offices’ shared event space. While the overarching theme of visual/design thinking remains constant month-to-month, each workshop has a unique focus.
Last week, we focused on data visualization. For many, the mere idea of data has them running in the opposite direction. For “non-creatives,” the thought of drawing something is daunting. Let’s make one thing clear: stick figures are perfectly acceptable at VTS workshops. There’s no judgement. And everyone is there to learn.
Why should I care about data visualization?
There is a lot to think about about when learning how to make data interesting. Through ice breakers, piles of hypothetical data, individual activities, group activities, collaboration, and yes, a little beer consumption, this workshop helped me embark on this learning process.
A few questions to consider when beginning the data visualization process:
- Using my data, who/what is the main “character” I will develop my story around?
- How am I going to make people care about what I have to say?
- How can I integrate data into a story without my audience even noticing?
- What kind of surprise/twist can I incorporate that will make them say “Wow, I never thought of it that way”?
- How can I make various sets of data flow logically together to tell a cohesive story?
Within our table groups, each person was given one set of data. After we individually found ways to visualize our personal data set, we were challenged to take two sets on the table and create a compelling story. Keep in mind the one rule of the night — written in foot tall letters and taped to the whiteboard no less — was, “It’s okay to make sh!t up.” In fact, one group found a way to seamlessly integrate statistics about the Likelihood of Becoming Possessed and Cat Adoption Rates — coming to the conclusion that one is less likely to become possessed if they adopt a furry friend.
With one engaging presenter and three simple illustrations of a devil morphing into a cat, nobody in the room realized how many statistics they consumed in two short minutes. The moral of the story is not to adopt a cat to avoid possession by the devil, but rather to tell a story with purpose that someone will not just listen to, but actually hear.
In the end, it comes down to taking something ambiguous and giving it meaning. These workshops are free and open to anyone; and you are guaranteed to meet some fascinating people. Come by our office on March 7 for the next VTS workshop and join us in learning how to make meaningful visual experiences.