Data points and metrics as characters in a visual narrative

Imagine you’re sitting down to watch a movie, and the plot revolves around a complex challenge that needs to be solved. The characters in the story are what makes it interesting and engaging. Similarly, in data storytelling, you can use your data points and metrics as characters to tell a captivating narrative that grabs your audience’s attention and makes the information more accessible.


How to  transform data points and metrics into characters in a data storytelling visual narrative

Limit the number of characters
Just like in a movie, you don’t want to overwhelm your audience with too many characters. Choose a few key metrics that are most important to your story and focus on those. This will make it easier for your audience to follow the narrative and understand the message.

Example: In a story about the impact of a marketing campaign, you might choose to focus on metrics such as click-through rates, conversions, and Return on Investment (ROI).

Give metrics depth and meaning
Just as characters in a story have unique qualities and motivations, your metrics should have substance and depth. Avoid using superficial or vanity metrics; choose those that truly reflect the narrative you want to tell.

Example: Instead of focusing on the number of likes on social media, consider using metrics that demonstrate actual engagement, such as shares or comments.

Define heroes and villains
Characters in stories often fall into the categories of heroes and villains. Identify which metrics are the “heroes” that you want to see succeed, such as an important positive finding or a story that exemplifies a larger trend or theme.  “Villains” may be those that you want to see overcome. You can use icons, simple and easily recognizable symbols, to identify each. Be consistent in your color coding and iconography to support understanding and clear takeaways. 

Example: In a story about improving employee productivity, the hero metric might be the number of tasks completed, while the villain metric could be the number of hours wasted on non-work-related activities. Tasks completed visuals may be green or blue, while the number of hours wasted may be red or orange, providing a clear contrast and positive or negative associations. 

Bring your metrics to life
Just as characters in stories have distinct appearances and personalities, you can use visual elements to give your metrics a unique identity. Use text, color, style, and icons to differentiate between your characters and create a memorable narrative.

Example: In a story about global warming, you might use a red rising thermometer icon for the temperature increase, indicating a villain metric, and a melting ice cap icon for the decrease in polar ice. A green checkmark or blue thumbs-up icon next to a task’s completed metric, a hero, can indicate targets or goals that were met or exceeded.

Show the character arc
Characters in stories go through changes and growth over time. Similarly, your metrics should reflect how they evolve throughout the narrative. Use visual elements to show the progress or decline of your metrics and emphasize the impact of your story.

Example: In a story about reducing carbon emissions, you could use a line graph to show the decline in emissions over time, with color changes to represent different milestones achieved.

Turning your data points and metrics into characters in your data storytelling visual narrative will create a more engaging and relatable story for your audience. This will make it easier for them to understand the information presented and ultimately drive them toward the desired outcome or action.