Saturday, November 20, 2010

Find: summary of viz workshop "Telling Stories with Data"

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Telling Stories with Data, A VisWeek 2010 Workshop

This is a guest post by Joan DiMicco, who heads the IBM Visual Communication Lab. Matt McKeon, Karrie Karahalios, and Joan hosted a workshop on Telling Stories with Data. These are the highlights.


What is a story? In a classic sense, a story has characters, events, and a progression. In our postmodern, meta-obsessed culture, we also tend to think about story in terms of the identities of the author and audience.


Now what if the story involves data? How does visualization support telling a story with data? How do journalists think about data visualization as part of their stories? How can visualization tools help data storytellers construct narratives?


At VisWeek 2010 in Salt Lake City, Matt McKeon, Karrie Karahalios, and I organized a workshop to explore this topic of Telling Stories with Data. We were initially motivated by our observation that people often use visualization to share personal perspectives and to tell stories about social situations.


For example, in May of this year, Matt was interested in exploring how Facebook's default privacy settings have changed over time. To that end, he created a visualization to illustrate their evolution. Matt then posted the visualization to his website, along with some explanatory text that further communicated his point of view. At the time, Facebook's privacy policy changes were a trending news topic, and the visualization spread rapidly through Twitter, Facebook, and several news blogs. Through use of animation and appropriate metaphor, this visualization told a simple yet compelling story: the information you put on Facebook is visible to larger and larger groups of people.



Yet the things that we found most striking about reaction to this visualization went beyond the issues we tend to think about as visualization designers. Matt found that changing a single sentence in the framing text of the visualization radically altered the nature of the comments that people made. Furthermore, as the story spread, people retold it as their own story, using the data visualization to describe elements from their personal experiences with Facebook.


This suggests factors that transcend the boundaries of "Visualization Design 101" and that affect the creation,...

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