I want to call 2020 Year of Data Viz.
Due to the ugly appearance of COVID – 19, as well as the preparations for the November election, we have all been exposed to a tremendous amount of data-driven research… and amazing creative ways that Journalists and bloggers chose to visualize those insights.
For content marketers with access to original research (think: initial survey, user data analysis or analyze third party data ), data visualization is a great way to get attention and build credibility.
That said, think twice about the elements of good information design before you start creating chart or infographic . Check out ideas to get you started – both design and tools and resources to support your efforts.
Table of Contents
Create your information design template
I promised we would be creative, but before creativity comes to discipline. Be patient, grasshopper.
It is extremely important to choose a data graphic template before you start creating and creating data. A template allows you to create a catalog of data visualizations that all belong to the same “type group”. But more importantly: A design pattern ensures any chart/graph you create is complete – without explanation or context. When someone captures a chart/graph on your screen for reuse, it can stand on its own and return to your brand.
What do I mean by “sample?” Think of it as a frame that you create any charts and graphs any. Below, examples of Pew Research Centers include:
- A headline that provides key results
- Question explanation subsection is being displayed
- Captions with detailed clarifications
- A source of credit
Pew also uses a limited color palette to ensure the information is crisp, clear, and non-sensational. If you visit the Pew Research Center website, you can see that every chart and graph follows these rules; Their research is clear and bold with Pew’s trademark.
Visualizing your data may not require as much information as the Pew example. However, you should have a schema to ensure that each chart and graph reflects the question or data selection being visualized. You should also include a source of credit that leads back to your company. (If your infographic contains a lot of visuals, you should still use a footer that presents the specifics of what is displayed.)
In my experience, it is not always easy for the general public to read charts and graphs, and for that reason, I favor simplicity. I often hear, “Bar charts are BORN”, but people usually know how to read bar charts, so don’t rush to write them down. If you choose more “creative” charts and graphs (read: less common), be absolutely sure that they make sense for the data and that they are easy to decipher.
When people ask me about getting started with data visualization, I always recommend two books: The Wall Street Magazine Infographics Guide and by Scott Berinato Good Leaderboard: The HBR Guide to Creating Smarter, More Persuasive Data Visuals .
The Wall Street Journal book is a call for simplicity. You won’t find many creative visualizations, but you’ll find a great additional resource on using color, typography, captions, and other tips to aid clarity. That is a great resource.
Scott’s book is more about the creative process of choosing a chart or graph for your data. When should you consider spider charts versus tree charts? Which chart is best for visualizing comparative data? Which one best visualizes composition or relationships? I found myself going through this book before I started new research projects .
TIP: It’s helpful to think about chart types even when you’re designing survey questions.
Now a cautionary tale. Why do I believe so passionately in simplicity? Because always, when companies “get creative” with visualization, things can go wrong. I keep a collection of unexpected moments for chuckles. Here is a recently updated entry on Reddit.
It was created by BP, a huge energy company that needs to have a huge budget for such things. I stared at it for a while before I understood it because it had many problems. Which chronograph has six hands? The countdown timer doesn’t normally tick down, not up? There’s so much to hate here. (As one Redditor joked, “So we have 314 years of oil left?”)
Leverage data visualization tools
With so many great visualization tools available, your choice will depend heavily on your budget and if it’s a one-time or ongoing effort. Here are a few:
Ceros helps brands create experiential, interactive digital stories and includes a neat data-viz tool. Ceros is a good choice for telling a multi-dimensional story – a story that requires multiple media types such as content, images, videos, and graphics. While it doesn’t come cheap, the final, polished product from Ceros will be well worth it.
. @Cerosdotcom is a good tool for telling a multi-dimensional story – one that requires multiple media types such as #content, images, video and graphics, @clare_mcd via @CMIContent said. #DataViz #tools Click to Tweet
Flourish is my horse at Mantis Research. I use it regularly to create beautiful templates and images on behalf of clients. Why do I love it? Once you get the hang of the menu, it’s easy to create custom charts and graphs for all of your original research. The list of available chart types is HUGE and the formatting options allow you to customize the look and feel of your brand. Flourish has anti-fake filter options (for example, allowing users to interact with the chart and view parts of your data). Best of all, you can extract your visualization as a static image (e.g. a png file), an HTML file to embed in a blog post, or even as an animation (more on animations. )
Canva . Graph Generator
If your budget is less and your needs are simpler, Canva .’s Graph Generator may be for you. This budget-friendly tool can generate social-ready charts and graphs from its catalog of templates. However, the tradeoffs are sometimes requiring you to tinker a bit more to get the chart just right. You are also limited in terms of chart/graph types available. It’s best for simple data visualization, like a bar chart or a donut chart.
Tableau is a great tool for building interactive charts and graphs, although I find in most cases it’s out of reach for the average user. I mention it because many data journalists rely on Tableau to tell complex, nuanced data stories in an online multimedia format. Unless you’re committed to learning Tableau for long-term use (or you have some coding experience to speed adoption), it’s too hard to get started on your next project.
With experience, let’s be creative
Now that I’ve spent 10 minutes warning you to be simple and clear, let’s talk about some of the less simple but more interesting options for displaying data.
I like to follow data journalists and data-driven media sites on Twitter to see what the pros are doing with visualizations (you can follow my twitter list here ). Large media companies increasingly tell data-driven stories – visually explaining an issue or trend in moving charts and graphs. This example from Bloomberg explore whether an urban migration is causing a pandemic. You can hover over the first US map to see net inflows/outflows by city. The second map allows you to select a city to view city data from the US Census Bureau. It really is a stunning rendering of complex data.
If you think these types of visually appealing images are off limits to you… you’re wrong. A tool like Flourish can help you create engaging, interactive graphics with no coding experience. (Of course you bring the data.) Of My favorite Flourish graphic is the bar chart race … an animation of what is usually a multi-line chart.
Becoming a data visualization expert takes some trial and error. I encourage you to start simple and learn basic information design skills first (such as you’ll find in the Wall Street Journal tutorials). And if you itch to make a simple improvement or create a heat map, scratch the itch.
Next time you present content marketing performance With teams, consider using the conditional formatting feature in Google Charts to enhance it. (Find it under formatting >> conditional formatting.) Who wants to look at a big table when you can use heatmap overlays to achieve aha factor?
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Cover photo by Joseph Kalinowski / Content Marketing Institute