In data stories, there are typically three types of pages, overview pages, impact pages, and data pages. Most of the pages are data pages. A bad data page describes the data. A good data page has a hierarchical structure, with a title that provides a recommendation or a summary.
The types of pages in a data story
Most data stories are presented across multiple "pages". Most commonly the pages are slides in a PowerPoint deck or dashboard.
Some of the pages will be text-laden slides, listing key recommendations or conclusions. Some of the pages will be there for a visual effect of some kind. For example:
Most of the pages, though, will typically be data pages, designed to teach the audience some fact or facts about the market.
Bad data pages describe the data
A badly designed page has a heading that describes the data, and then just has lots of data, perhaps with significance tests and footnotes. The only way to work out what this data is saying is to read it all.
Good data pages have a hierarchical structure
The page below is much better. It presents a clear hierarchical structure as follows:
- The heading of the page summarizes the whole page. A busy reader can just read the heading and learn most of what is available.
- The next most important finding is the first comment, about The Mandolarian and Stranger Things.
- Then, in smaller font, comes the next most important result.
- If the reader wants to get a lot more detail, they can look at the ranking plot (also known as a bumps chart). This also has a hierarchical structure, with the most important results at the top.
- If the client wants even more detail, they can read the numbers.
- And, lastly, they can read the footnotes.
A more conventional hierarchical example is shown below.
Storytelling with data, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic (2015), provides a good overview of the basic principles (the example immediately above is adapted from its pages 81-82. Another good reference on this topic is Data Story: Explain Data and Inspire Action Through Story, Nancy Duarte (2019).
Emphasizing key results
While the key requirement is to create a pyramid-like hierarchy, the other set of tactics in designing a data story involves emphasizing key results. Techniques for doing this include:
- Using color and the absence of color to emphasize key results. The use of blue in the slide above is an example of this. The use of red and grey in the chart below shows an alternative approach.
- Showing averages and norms on tables and charts to make contrasts easy.
- Semi-transparent boxes to call attention to key things.
- Arrows and traffic light systems for calling out interesting results.
- Using whitespace to emphasize groupings.