Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thinking like a designer: storytelling with data

Several years ago, in a previous school, I attended a staff meeting where we were shown the results of a survey that had been conducted at the school several months before.  This presentation had been put together by an experienced educator, and data derived from the responses to the survey were all visualized as Excel graphs.  However it was one of the most incomprehensible presentations I've ever attended - it was hard to follow and the design got in the way of communicating the message.  I did learn something though.  Thinking that there must have been a better way to present data, I went out and read Garr Reynold's book on Presentation Zen, and following this I made sure that I shared these design principles and techniques with both students and teachers.  Last year, following a Google Summit hosted at AST, I also came across a free iBook from Keri-Lee Beasley called Design Secrets Revealed on iTunes.  This iBook contains 4 short videos that explain some simple principles of design (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity).  I have used these videos with elementary students to have them understand how using the CARP principles can really help them to communicate in an impactful way using both posters and presentations.

Today I've started reading a new book, Storytelling with Data by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.  Cole writes:
In school, we learn a lot about language and math.  On the language side we learn how to put words together into sentences and into stories.  With math, we learn to make sense of numbers.  But it's rare that these two sides are paired:  no one teachers us how to tell stories with numbers .... This leaves us poorly prepared for an important task that is increasingly in demand.  Technology has enabled us to amass greater and greater amounts of data and there is an accompanying growing desire to make sense out of all this data.  Being able to visualize data and tell stories with it is key to turning it into information that can be used to drive better decision making  ...  Being able to tell stories with data is a skill that's becoming more important in our world of increasing data and desire for data driven decision making.  An effective data visualization can mean the difference between success and failure when it comes to communicating the findings of your study ... or simply getting your point across to your audience.
I'm hoping that I will learn a lot from this book, and be able to share this learning with students to help them tell better stories with the data they are collecting.  I'll be sharing thoughts about this in future blog posts too.

Photo Credit: jannekestaaks via Compfight cc

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