- [Instructor] So, visualizations are more than just data or charts or maps, at their best they're a story. Humans really have been telling each other stories as their primary means of communications and education for, really, tens of thousands of years. Whether around a campfire or using modern media, the fact of the matter is that there's a lot of power to the phrase once upon a time. We're wired for stories. And visualization takes work to create stories out of it, and some of that work really has nothing to with the visualization.
It really is about the storytelling aspect to it. Just like great design is really about strategy and thinking and planning before the first stroke of the paintbrush, it's no less so in visualization. Visualizations, especially interactive ones, aren't necessarily consumed in a linear way, like a book. You can't necessarily control how your user processes the information you give them, but you can structure a story in a narrative way with a narrative process. You could encourage users to walk through the information in a linear, progressive way even though you can't force them to do it.
And so, let's look at stories. The fact is that stories have a very simple structure. Every one has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A more nuanced view includes a few more elements. The beginning of the story and then the protagonist faces a serious challenge, and then there's the middle of the story and then there's some sort of climax. Then there's the denouement, that's sort of like, after the climax, things start to wrap up all the way down into the grand finale where the book closes. If you think about your visualization in these terms as much as you can, you really can't go wrong.
And so, we're going to design a visualization together using this structure as our guiding principle. So, the first thing you do is you define a headline, and there may be more than one headline. In fact, I recommend that you go through the process of thinking of more than one. I like to think of it as coming up with a New York Times headline, which is a very serious and journalistic and straightforward headline. And then there's the New York Post version, which is a little bit more salacious and crazy and scandal-ridden. Sort of the fun one versus the serious one. And sometimes for your visualizations, you may lean one way or the other, but play around with headlines.
The headline is the most important top line summation of the story you're trying to tell. You can also think about the headline in terms of, what will people tweet when they share your visualization? And you also want to, when you're coming up with your headline, actually use blank spaces when you're thinking about it for the data parts. So, in other words, you want to minimize bias. So, if I'm coming up with a headline about the best place to get a hip replacement is blank, 'cause my visualization, I'm going to be finding the answer to that question, but the headline, the main point of it is the best place to find a hip replacement is.
That portion you want to lay down pretty hard and fast on your infographic. So, then your next point in the hierarchy of your data visualization is your introduction. So, in an infographic like this, it's, of course, just a paragraph. It's establishing the premise and the context for the visualization before diving into the data, and it belongs below the headline at the top of the page to draw the eye there first. So, again, this is conceptual and structural, using the story as our guiding principle. This is, of course, not meant to be the design, quote, unquote.
If you think of it in the story standpoint, that's the beginning of our story, is the headline and the introduction. Now let's move on to the challenge. So, there are a lot of ways to add the, quote, unquote, challenge to a visualization. One is simply to add a callout, big, bolded text like this that calls out the main idea of the story you're trying to tell or the problem that's being addressed or the question that your visualization is meant to answer. So, in this wire frame, this bold type will really draw the eye. In a real graphic, of course, it could take different visual forms.
And so, we move on to the meat and potatoes of the story. So, we've set up the premise, we've gotten the user into it, now we're going to load them up with data, the meat and potatoes, and here's where the chart with all the detail and the interactivity and imagery is going to go, in this gray area in the middle. This is where the user is going to spend most of their time really exploring and playing around and looking at the data. So, how do we introduce the climax, the sort of pivotal moment in the experience? And we're going to look at two different scenarios, one is a static infographic and one is an interactive chart. So, in a static infographic, you have information here, in this example, this wire frame, that's really meant to be consumed linearly.
Of course people are going to start on the left if they're left-to-right language readers. They're going to follow the arrows, and more likely than not, end up on the right-hand side. But if I had a climax, a big story, a special thing that I wanted to draw attention to, I'm going to highlight it, maybe in a visually interesting way. So, I'm going to create a focal point that's going to contain the climax. It could actually contain the conclusion or the challenge, too, this type of a visual focal point treatment. This might draw the eye there first, of course, and now I've killed that linear progression experience 'cause someone's going to read this first.
But again, the idea isn't necessarily to enforce linear consumption of the content, it's just to use that structure when you're thinking about it. Now, if I was trying to do this in an interactive graphic, the approach might be a little bit different. You can enforce a linear consumption of the content by having a Next button and making your users click Next and Next to reveal one piece of the story after another exactly how you want to tell it, and then you can do the big reveal at the end of that process. So, now we have the exact same visual structure as the static infographic, but we're forcing the user to get to it piece by piece, bit by bit.
Or another way to do it is to have sorting and filtering buttons. So, you might put your filters in a certain order, and again, assuming people are going to go left to right, which is a relatively safe assumption, but not always. You can encourage a user to use certain filters first, clicking on the left, and then when they click on that filter, you might be able to highlight certain things. When the data reveals, one bar is taller than the others and you can use a callout to highlight something interesting that happened there. So, again, the user is progressing through the content, and there isn't necessarily a denouement.
Sometimes you have that shiny object syndrome where they'll come into interactive, filter, filter, find something interesting, and then they just leave. You don't get the opportunity to conclude things for them. It's hard, in that situation, to offer conclusions and to deconstruct things for them sometimes, but it's a really good exercise to try to think about how you would do that. So, if we go back to our static infographic, it's really easy to offer a conclusion on the page. So, we're used to seeing it in the lower right-hand corner. You have a box with the small print, the footer.
It's very easy to see structurally. I would also strongly recommend that you always include your sources. Where did this data come from? Why should I believe you? Why is it valid? That's sort of part of the conclusion in a story structure. In an interactive infographic, you can also offer more conclusion-like things. So, after your users go through this deep exploration process, they're trying to find deeper information and their own a-has, they can deconstruct the info themselves quite a bit, but then maybe at the end, there's a Next button and they click through and you can sort of offer them this summed up view of the data.
Maybe you have a spokesmodel celebrity who's going to come on camera and speak to the users about the most important conclusion from the data. So, there are a lot of ways to introduce conclusions and denouements into interactivity even though you're never guaranteed that people will experience them. I think it's really helpful to think of every project, even your non-linear interactive ones, within that linear storytelling framework. It helps you work through functionality logic as well as the hierarchy of information, and it also helps you measure your success. Did I present the conclusion, the finale to my users in a way that they're most likely to consume it? Even though you're not always telling a linear story, it's a really helpful way to think about things.
- Describe the process by which individuals’ interests are incorporated into data visualizations.
- Differentiate the use of the Ws in data visualization.
- Explain techniques involved in defining your narrative when visualizing data.
- Identify the factors that make data visualizations relatable to an audience’s interests and needs.
- Review the appropriate use of charts in data visualizations.
- Define the process involved in applying interactivity to data visualizations.