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May your data stories inform and inspire

Sometimes we bump into something that changes our mind, our point of view, our perception of what we consider normal. That’s exactly what happened to me when I read Storytelling with Data by Cole Knaflic. Got the book last year and before reading it, I always created my vizzes with only one thing in my head, to show the data. Storytelling with data changed everything, I would no longer just show data, I would always attempt to tell a story with it !

Last Monday at London Tableau User Group (#LondonTUG) we had the privilege of listening to Cole’s presentation (Thanks LondonTUG team!). She was, in my opinion, simply superb. Great and fluid presentation showing some of the fundamentals of data visualization and how to communicate effectively with data.

Love how she started presenting her own son and telling a personal story and her son favourite book, an ice braking introduction and rule number one to win your audience. One way or another, most of us felt part of her same experience as parents. We all follow the same pattern: repetition, pictures, story.

We all tell stories to our relatives, children, friends, family, all the time. If you think about it, we collect data by learning about a subject and then we passed what we have learned to others by telling them a story. For many of us, our daily jobs may not be that different. We gather data from several sources, we analyse it and then we create our visualisations with that information but … how many of us are actually telling a story with that data?

Cole’s presentation showed how we should all be focusing on the message we want to bring across. Some of her tips where clear and simple as Understanding the context, Choose an appropriate visual, Eliminate clutter (yes, please!), Focus attention, Think like a designer and Tell a story.

It happened that three days after LondonTUG, I downloaded data from The World Bank regarding Gross National Savings as I wanted to find a trend on UK savings. My first attempt ended up with this chart …

I know, horrible, right? … Instantly I remembered Cole’s presentation and one of her slides full of colourful balloons. How can you spot a specific one in that sea of colours? – Nearly impossible.

Her following slide showed a greyed out image with one purple balloon, easy to spot, easy to focus on.

On that moment, I knew exactly what to do with my chart. Was I interested in all EU countries or just UK? … Step one, help the viewers focus on the message, UK Savings was the message, let’s then focus on that!

After playing with colours and line sizes, decluttering the viz and adding extra information for people who don’t know what Gross National Savings are, here is what my final viz looked like:

<div class='tableauPlaceholder' id='viz1493393188698' style='position: relative'><noscript><a href='#'><img alt='Gross savings (% of GDP) ' src='' style='border: none' /></a></noscript><object class='tableauViz' style='display:none;'><param name='host_url' value='' /> <param name='site_root' value='' /><param name='name' value='HowUKsavingscomparetotherestoftheEuropeanUnioncountries/GrosssavingsofGDP' /><param name='tabs' value='no' /><param name='toolbar' value='yes' /><param name='static_image' value='' /> <param name='animate_transition' value='yes' /><param name='display_static_image' value='yes' /><param name='display_spinner' value='yes' /><param name='display_overlay' value='yes' /><param name='display_count' value='yes' /></object></div> <script type='text/javascript'> var divElement = document.getElementById('viz1493393188698'); var vizElement = divElement.getElementsByTagName('object')[0];'1004px';'869px'; var scriptElement = document.createElement('script'); scriptElement.src = ''; vizElement.parentNode.insertBefore(scriptElement, vizElement); </script>

You may say: There are many grey lines we don’t know what they are. True, but my story was about UK Savings within EU countries context, the main focus was always UK.

After her presentation, I was lucky enough to exchange a few words with Cole and she was most kind to sign my book … Cole, thanks for the book signing and the photos, I have kept my promise and share my experience with everyone !

About The Author

Pablo Gomez

Originally from Argentina, Pablo co-founded I FOR IDEAS, a Branding and Marketing company specialised on graphic design and digital content. After working in data analysis and reporting for over a decade, he was introduced to Tableau in early 2013. Always fascinated by Data and Graphic Design, Tableau was the perfect platform to combine both of his passions.

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