Data storytelling and think tanks: How to make the most of your dataviz

May 2024
3 min read
by Margherita Cardoso

Data has been recognised as the world’s most valuable asset, and responsible policymakers rely on it to make informed decisions.

But numbers alone are not always enough to convince your audience. Data storytelling can be the key to explaining the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ of policy ideas. 

Designing compelling narratives with data requires technical skills and a trained eye: layout, colour, typography and animations need to be carefully planned so that information can be digested easily.  

In this article we briefly describe some of the key ingredients for successful storytelling with statistics. 

Getting started

Regardless of whether you are going for a simple chart or a complex infographic, you are trying to tell a story and get a key point across. There are some common ingredients you need to think about every time:

Choosing the right chart
The same data can have different meanings depending on how it’s arranged in a chart. To choose the right one, you need to decide which data relationship tells your story best: is it distribution? Change over time? Or spatial?

Content and text
Good, clear titles, annotations and labels are crucial when it comes to showing someone how to read a visualisation. 

  • Use descriptive titles that summarise the main messages to decrease the mental load of understanding your chart .
  • Use direct labelling and annotation to make the chart easier to read and reduce the number of different colours needed. In interactive charts this should be replaced with hover effects.

Check accessibility and colour contrast, and make sure your palette doesn’t include too many colours.

  • Use accessible colours. Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a visual impairment: use high-contrast colours that meet the WCAG AA requirements. 
  • Avoid using too many different colours. There are a number of techniques to help reduce your colour palette: making use of separation and space; using shades instead of hues; highlighting just one category; using direct labels or tooltips and hover effect; using line thickness or dashes instead of colours. 

Use hierarchy and clear typography to maximise the impact and legibility of your message. Make sure that your font sizes are large enough to be read easily –  ideally at a glance.   

Busy layouts or trying to show too much information can be counterproductive. Select the most important message and move the rest to the surrounding copy, explanatory notes or a separate chart.

In addition to using accessible colours and typography, there’s an extra step that can be taken with interactive digital charts. These charts’ titles, subtitles and note text are read out by screen readers by default. You can then also alt-text for screen readers to offer a verbal description of what the chart shows visually. 

Interactivity and animations
With digital outputs, interactivity and animations can really help bring your charts to life and present the content in a more digestible way. They shouldn’t be abused, though – only use animations that help convey the message, rather than just adding a fancy effect. 

Data storytellers must consider the diverse needs and perspectives of their audience when creating visualisations. This includes acknowledging cultural differences and language preferences, as well as accessibility requirements. 

Visualisations should be inclusive and accessible to individuals with varying levels of data literacy and cognitive abilities. Adapting visualisations to accommodate different audience backgrounds enhances comprehension and fosters engagement.

Looking for help with bringing your data to life? We’ve just launched a brand new Soapbox dataviz partnership programme – an offer combining set-up and ongoing support, designed specifically to meet the needs of research and policy organisations. Download the PDF for more information – or get in touch with us at [email protected] with questions and feedback.

Margherita is a Creative lead at Soapbox, specialising in information design. She is based in London.

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