Friday, June 1, 2012

telling multiple stories (part 2)

Last week, we looked at an example of telling multiple stories with the same data in a single visual. Today, I want to look at another example where we'll repeat the same visual, drawing attention to different parts of it to tell discrete stories.

Here is our base visual:

Most of the details have been hidden here to preserve the confidentiality of the data (note also that there was originally a y-axis on the second graph, which I've removed here to protect the confidentiality of the info shown). Let's imagine that we have a number of different categories and data for each on 1) what proportion of users take a certain action and 2) how satisfied users are with the outcome of that action in a few countries.

As in the example discussed last week, there are a number of comparisons we can make with this data: for a given category, we can see how it compares to the other categories or how the various countries compare within a given category; or we can look at how the metric varies across different categories for a given country.

In the above view, these comparisons are mostly equally easy (or difficult, depending on how you look at it). There aren't strong visual cues directing our attention (outside of proximity, which makes it easier to compare categories or countries within a given category, but harder to compare a give country across multiple categories).

But check out what happens when we add those visual cues. First, to tell a story about a given category:

We can also use this approach to tell a story about a given country:

I think this is a particularly powerful way to approach telling multiple stories with data when presenting to a live audience, because it really allows you to pull their attention to where you want it as you talk through the interesting findings. But I could imagine a similar approach in a written report as well. There is definite benefit to be gained by repeating the visual: the audience orients themselves with it once and the details stay the same, just the point of emphasis and context you build around it with the story changes.


  1. Great post Cole and I really like your point about calling out attention using color during a live meeting. I'll go one step further. Get yourself a tool that lets you interactively explore your data in front of a live audience. I've done that a few times (it is scary and exciting) and my audience learned things they would've never learned had I presented from summarized data. And they loved it.

    John Sall, SAS' cofounder, made the same point when I saw him speak in April. Of course, his software, JMP, makes it practical to do live presentations with real data (and biggish data...millions of rows).

    Keep up the great work. I always enjoy your insightful, practical posts.

    John Munoz

  2. Another precious tip! Thank you.

    I assume if we present the same visual to a live audience we can also omit description text block above the graph [Let's focus on category 3 etc.].

    It probably can be my verbal story.

    Your advice?

  3. Thanks for your comments! John - exploring interactive data in front of your audience live does sound exciting and scary! Sampath - I actually would still recommend keeping the main takeaway on the slides in words as well, as it reinforces the message for your audience (also makes sure the message is preserved if your slides travel and someone is looking at them without you there to talk through them).