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Ten tips for turning data into stories

Data isn’t just about facts and figures. It’s increasingly becoming the building blocks for a new wave of creativity, that's being used by brands to do everything from influencing behaviour to changing perceptions. It's also an opportunity to discover and share narratives – becoming a fresh new form of storytelling. 

We spoke with three people – Shift Design's Tori Flower, Spotify's Alex Bodman and Visualized's Maral Pourkazemi – that are immersed in data, day-in day-out, to find out exactly what it takes to turn statistics into stories.

1. Data can be presented to get people to compete with others – look at how O Power compares how much energy you are using to others in similar homes, and Strava shows how well you compare to others who are also running and cycling in your area.

2. Large data sets can inspire others to act. Historypin uses big data sets of old photos from archives and museums as stimulus for story-sharing sessions, encouraging conversation and debate. 

3. Think how it can be integrated with maps, like Ushashidi, or Shift's work mapping fast food outlets. How can this tell a story and show change over time?

4. Data visualisation is about showing correlations and relationships. It is not about just presenting figures. 

5. Make your visualisation relevant to your target audience.

6. Treat the numbers with empathy and respect. Most of the time they are about people. 

7. The key is curiosity. Data storytelling starts with a question. Or many questions. 

8. Data will never form a narrative for you, but it can fuel it.

9. Look for the unexpected, suprising or difficult to believe – data storytelling is dull when it confirms what you'd expect. 

10. Prepare for the answers to disappoint. Then ask more questions. 

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