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Using Infographics to Tell a Story About Data

The past five months or so I have been doing a lot of research about infographics. Mainly because a fellow librarian at MCC, Trevor Smith, convinced me to present with him at the recent Internet Librarian and the Arizona Librarian Association conferences about data analytics. Trevor talked about collecting and analyzing data, and I talked about telling a story with data using infographics. I thought I could summarize what I learned and why infographics can be a powerful tool.

Why should you tell a story about data? Good question! Raw numbers and data can be misleading without putting it into context. For example, if we looked at a chart that showed our library gets a lot of research questions at the reference desk between 10am and 2pm, you pretty much already know that because obviously there are more people in the library at that time. It would be more meaningful if we could take other pieces of data and connect them together, such as how many classes are being offered at those times versus other times. It would help put it into context, and help us see the bigger picture.

More importantly, data lacks empathy. Telling a story about data helps your audience connect their left rational side of the brain with their right emotional side of the brain, helps you connect with your audience and helps them connect with the story, and leads people to make more compassionate decisions. For example, say administration wanted to get rid of having two librarians on the desk at night and our stats showed we don’t get a whole lot of reference questions. What if we could connect that with other data that puts it into context and then tell a story about it: even though we have less questions, those questions at night take more than 15 minutes to answer versus the day so we are spending more time with those students; those students have day jobs, they have families, they are people returning to school after a long time off, they are the ones that need more support. If we could put a human element behind it, it will hopefully lead our audience to have empathy and come to a decision you want them to. The data is telling the what, and we are adding the why. Also, in this way we make the data memorable because the audience experiences the data versus just tries to interpret it.

Using infographics is a great way to tell a story visually, since humans are visually hardwired. Check out 13 Reasons Your Brain Craves Infographics for more information. They help you start an informed conversation. They provide new ways of seeing things for your audience, such as relationships and patterns between the data they never thought of. They can even show the future; you want to provide the readers with a solution or a call to action.

Our Prezi we created for our presentation provides some tips for creating and designing infographics, so I won’t go into a bunch of details. The best thing I can say is to:

  • come up with a thesis and objectives (what do you want people to do, to think about, to believe?)
  • gather as much data as you can; if you don’t have the data find it
  • find the most compelling data possible to support your thesis (just two to three things because you can’t fit everything)
  • come up with a compelling narrative/a storyboard with a metaphor
  • put your best data first to grab attention
  • end with a call to action
  • be objective and represent the data relationships accurately
  • get constructive feedback on it before you use it

If you do it well, data will be easily understood, people will be able to see the meaning and relationships between the data, and it should be obvious what the audience should do with the information.

So now that I’ve learned all about it, I’m going to create one! I’ll let you know how it goes…

Here is our presentation (it includes a lot more design tips):

Library Analytics: A Storytelling Approach

Here are some tools you can use to create infographics:

Here are some infographic resources:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


One response »

  1. Well said, Megan. This is very insightful, and it helps me to better understand and appreciate infographics … and makes me want to give it a try! Thank you for this post.


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