30/06/21

Designing data: how to tell stories through numbers

By Jared Millan

Data is the lifeblood of what we do. Without its guiding light we wouldn’t know what to do or how to do it right. The caveat is that data isn’t always the easiest to present. To the untrained eye, numbers might as well be an alien language. 

Here’s where infographics come in. Not only do they present data in a clear, straightforward way, but by incorporating visual elements into the mix they tell us a story.

Infographics and data-driven visuals are core elements of what we do at Delivery Hero.

In this week’s blog, our Global Editorial Content Manager and data whizz Ayah Ewaiwi takes us backstage into her process of collecting data while our Senior Motion Designer and visual lead Dung Gräben lets us in on his creative process when designing data.

In terms of surveys and data collection, how do you know which questions to ask?

Ayah: The main challenge of data is to utilize it without being overwhelmed by it. There’s a Sherlock Holmes quote that goes: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” I tend to disagree; I find when collecting data for a story, it’s crucial to start with a vision of the end product first. Otherwise, you’ll just end up with a ton of raw data and be overwhelmed by it.

So before crafting my questions, I will at least have some idea of the story I want to use it for to give me a clear frame to base the questions around.

Numbers can be such an intimidating thing. When it comes to presenting data, how do you do it in such a way that everybody can understand it?

Dung: What I like to do, as I have the same problem with numbers, is to put less text and numbers together on the screen. I also put them in less heavy order. For example bigger, longer numbers as stand-alones, and shorter numbers stand alongside short copy. Also, when you have colors: you can play with colours to make them stand out or give them a supporting role.

Is there such a thing as “uninteresting” or “irrelevant” data?

Ayah: Yes and no. When it comes to raw data, It is all about creating insights and key findings. Raw data is only as practical as the insights you can extract from it. 

To enhance our stories with data, we create insights out of them, and that is what makes the overall content attractive to intrigue our audiences and engage with them on a more personal level.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” With data-driven design, what story are you trying to tell?

Dung: It depends on what theme we have and what purpose the data tries to show or highlight.

Let’s take “fast” as an example. We could for example animate each number to appear fast separately on the screen, and that motion could support the term fast. 

What I can do is to animate things in specific order so that I can help guide the viewer’s eye through the content to emphasise where to look at.

Walk us through your process of gathering data. What does it look like from the beginning, middle, and end?

Ayah: 

  1. Setting a potential story and keeping it in mind throughout the rest of the process
  2. Conceptualizing while thinking about the brand experience and the customer first
  3. Reviewing and scanning all the data I have available
  4. Identify the gaps in the data and find ways to retrieve more information or data that is missing
  5. Analyze and gather insights
  6. Start over again

How is an infographic different from your typical graphic illustration, and in what ways is it similar?

Dung: The difference is the Focus. 

When you do graphic illustrations, you focus on the design and add different motions to bring it to life. Similar to a protagonist and supporting roles, these elements will then be animated in different ways and orders. 

At the same time, with Infographics, you have a story driven by data and so the focus is to make sure the data is easy to understand and has a good flow. 

But this is also what makes it similar. As both have a Focus point with the main protagonist and supporting roles.

More than gathering raw data, what other purpose does using data in campaigns serve?

Ayah: When creating editorial content, we aim to always think of our audience first and the value they will receive by consuming our content. 

With data storytelling, the goal is to put our customers in the center of the experience. Every listicle, infographic, gif or image, or video aims to highlight what our customers said or did or think weaving in a narrative that makes the customer the center of the story.

What are the key points and considerations that you keep in mind whenever you’re using data for content?

Dung: 

  1. Make the customer the star of the show
  2. Fuel curiosity in your audience through content and make it interesting
  3. Stay consistent with your data communication and take a risk
  4. Make shareability desirable, inspiring engagement and response.

What’s the dynamic like between you and the designer when they’re translating the data you’ve gathered into actual graphic art? How much say do you have when it comes to the actual “look” of it?

Ayah: At Delivery Hero, we are lucky enough to have an in-house creative team consisting of copywriters, graphic designers, UX/UI designers, motion designers, editors, and developers. We have a highly collaborative creative setup. And so when it comes to visualizing data, we start with an overarching strategy and creative brief and, whenever necessary, brainstorm and come up with innovative solutions and creative results.

How would you describe the relationship between data and design when it comes to infographics?

Dung: I would say that rather than seeing it as a relationship, I see Data as the skeleton of a Human and the Design is the Appearance. So they depend on each other, as design helps to convey the data easier. For a relationship I would say the balance each other out.

Ayah: The purpose of good data design is to take something inherently complicated and make it simple. Infographics are a great format to communicate information in a digestible and visually pleasing way, but the purpose should always be insights, not pictures.