Using Visual Highlighting in Storytelling

Visual highlighting in data storytelling refers to visual cues or design elements to draw attention to specific features or areas within a visual narrative. It involves visual enhancements to emphasize important information, patterns, or insights, guiding the audience’s focus and enhancing their understanding of the story. Visual highlighting can be accomplished through various means, such as color, motion, framing, size, and audio.



One of the most potent tools in visual design is color. It can instantly grab attention, convey emotion, and emphasize elements in your narrative. When selecting colors for your visual, consider using: 

  • Contrasting colors: Use contrasting colors to make essential elements stand out. For example, you might use a dark background with a bright color for the data points that you want to highlight.
  • Color schemes: Choose a color scheme that supports the mood or theme of your narrative. For instance, if your report concerns water conservation, you might use shades of blue to represent various water sources.



Adding motion to your visual can help direct the viewer’s attention and make specific elements more prominent. Here are some ways to use motion: 

  • Animations: Use subtle animations or transitions to emphasize certain points, such as fade-ins or object movements. For example, imagine a bar chart where each bar grows gradually to its final height, highlighting the data’s development over time.
  • Interactivity: Add interactive components to your visual, like hover effects or click-to-reveal features. These can make your visual more engaging and provide additional information for interested viewers.



How you frame or arrange elements in your visual can greatly impact its effectiveness. Here are some framing techniques to consider: 

  • Focus on key elements: Use frames or borders around essential elements to separate and focus attention on them. Suppose you’re creating a map with multiple data points. In that case, you might use circles or boxes around critical locations to draw the eye to those points. 
  • Zoning: Divide your visual into distinct sections or zones using lines, space, or color. This separation helps to organize your visual and can make it easier to follow your narrative. For instance, you might use zoning in a dashboard to separate different data types or metrics.



Use size to prioritize and attract attention to critical parts of the visual narrative. Here are some ideas: 

  • Large elements: Make key features larger than others to draw focus. For example, in a word cloud highlighting the most frequently used words, you might use larger text for the most common terms.
  • Relative sizing: Use size to represent quantitative relationships between elements. For example, you could use more giant bubbles for higher values in a bubble chart. 



Although not always required, incorporating audio can enhance the experience and provide additional context for your narrative. Some examples include: 

  • Sound effects: Use sound effects to emphasize specific moments or events in your visual. For example, in a video showing a timeline, you might use a ticking sound to highlight the passing of time.
  • Narration: Add voice narration to explain your visual and describe important aspects of the data. This can be particularly helpful when presenting complex information or targeting an audience who may not be familiar with the subject matter.

In conclusion, effective design can significantly affect how well your visual narrative communicates and connects with the viewer. By strategically using color, motion, framing, size, and audio, you’ll be better equipped to create visuals that tell a compelling story while keeping your audience engaged.