Design Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Data Story

When you are presenting, you are essentially sharing your knowledge with your audience. By sharing, you are teaching them something new. As a communicator you need to be sure that the message you are delivering is strong and consistent. In this context, design can be your best friend. By drawing your audience’s attention to the areas of your presentation that truly matter. They help communicate your story by telling audience where and what to look for. Design thus helps give power to the most salient points in your presentation. Here are some design principles that can help make your data story standout and help deliver a message to your audience.


Call outs

The term callout is just that, it is used to ‘call out’ specific data points in your story. Unlike labels, that are used to address general information in your data, callouts are recognized beyond the label through either distinctive color or shape.

Callouts indicate a benchmark. They are extremely useful in navigating your audience’s eye to the parts of your story that matter or stand out. Use callouts sparsely as these might distract your viewer from the message you are looking to convey. If using more than one callout, make sure to differentiate through different use of color and shape.


New York Times Call Out
(Source: New York Times, 2012)


Repetition is important in your data story. Your audience may not be familiar with the information you are presenting. Therefore, it is important to repeat yourself over and over to make sure your message gets across. Reusing visual cues may help your audience become familiar with your visual representations. Present your data in different ways to highlight key parts of your story. Repetition allows you to reinforce your message and ensure the message you are delivering is consistent with the presentation.


New York Times
(Source: New York Times)

Color as Visual Attribute

When using color, you want to ideally strike a balance between form and function. Colors can make your designs look beautiful but they should also indicate something important about the information that is being presented. Color should function as a third visual attribute (after x and y plane).

Monochromatic colors are excellent way to communicate by points with lowest value being the least dense in color and points with highest values being most dense. Viewer can understand the information being presented in an intuitive sense.

Example and Excellent Resource

Color Brewer
(Source: Color Brewer)


When presenting data it is always important to have your audience in mind. Your audience may not be familiar with the data. By using callouts you can direct your audience’s eye to the parts that matter. By using repetition by showing your data in multiple ways you can reinforce the message you are seeking to deliver. And finally, by adding color in a way that combines both form and function you can ensure that your communication is both aesthetically pleasing and relevant to your presentation. These three design principles will ensure your data story leaves a memorable mark to your audience.

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