Long story short: Getting to grips with presenting data

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Radley Yeldar think that traditional ways of presenting data aren’t interesting, but suggest a more creative approach to data.

Design, art and creative communication has always been a solution to translate complex (or in some cases, just dry) material into an engaging narrative. It’s the same when it comes to data. A creative approach breaks down barriers to understanding, increasing the likelihood of getting someone interested in your numbers, and more importantly, the story you want to tell.

Challenging audiences (alt: Deeper connections)

I recently watched a talk by Mona Chalabi, data editor at the The Guardian US and well-known for her work on the intersection of data, creativity and communication. She posed the simple question, “How can we actually build attention times, rather than just playing into short ones?”

Presenting data in a compelling – yet easily digestable way – challenges audiences. Instead of catering to short attention spans, there’s an opportunity to engage people, pique their interest and get them to spend time digesting the information and really understand it.

Additionally, being able to hold attention spans for longer deepens the connection between brands and audiences, especially when the organisation is being transparent and open about a complex subject. And we know that being transparent as a business is a trigger for getting people to believe in it. In fact, 56% of Britons are likely to turn away from businesses who fail to communicate openly with customers, employees and stakeholders.

Data and creativity: the process

We are in a time where audiences are more data-savvy, which opens the door for agencies and creatives to use data as the material in the creative process or as a building block in the creative execution.

Agencies or creatives, who’ve combined data and design, are engaging audiences in a unique way. The positive reception and high level of engagement may indicate that audiences are ready to be challenged a little more when it comes to communication.

So where to begin?

When it comes to kickstarting the process of visualising data, it helps to think about the distance between the audience and the numbers.

For example, investors know numbers, so they’ll likely appreciate data visualisation rooted in chart or graph styles. But if an audience is so far removed, you need to deliver the data in a way that’s easy for them to understand and connect with. This can be done through storytelling, engaging and easy-to-understand commentary or representing the data as something completely different.

With these audiences, the key is to put distance between the data and the delivery by making it relevant to them. If you can turn the data into something people actually find interesting, you can trick them into engaging with technical information. They won’t even know they’re enjoying numbers.

Get to know your data

A key part of being able to approach data creatively is being comfortable with data in the first place. You should be able to understand the material you’re working with.

Put simply, you can’t translate something for someone if you don’t understand what it is you’re translating. In other words you can’t turn data into something interesting and relevant for audiences if you don’t understand it yourself.

By getting closer to to the numbers, it’s easier to start looking at it differently. And that’s what being creative with data really is, delivering it in a different format than just numbers on a page.

What next for the industry?

As audiences demand more transparency, it’s pretty undeniable that we’ll see an increase in creative grounded in data. When evidence is the execution, it’s harder for audiences to rebut.

Businesses being transparent about complex subjects and presenting it in a way audiences understand helps build trust. And as time goes on, trust between orgnisations and their audiences is only going to become more critical.

But it’s a sensitive topic. Some people think data is intruding on creativity. But it will never be a replacement in the creative process, it’s just one of many solutions to solve a creative problem.

Samantha Shannon, research and data analytics manager at Radley Yelder.

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