Use Proximity for Better Data Storytelling

Recent clients, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, faced a design problem so common they didn’t even know it was a problem. They were working on communicating some data from a program that aims to educate on healthy sexuality and reproductive health. They surveyed participants at the start and end of the program and had some great results to share. But they showed the data in a way that can be hard to connect.

Each of the two bullet points in the section below relates to one of the lines in the line graph. But their separation by both space and color doesn’t make it obvious that these pieces belong together and makes it more likely that their sweet results will be skipped by most viewers.

The rule of proximity suggests that people will see things as related if they are close to each other. In my remake, I eliminated the separation by using the chart title space as the main heading and I leveraged data labels as spaces to hold their main findings.

By moving the key findings down in to the graph, we unite the text and the visual and increase our chances that readers will more readily understand the results of this program. Here’s how I did it.

First of all, I combined the data you would traditionally see in a spreadsheet into a single sentence, using Excel’s CONCATENATE formula.

See the formula, up in the formula bar? It is combining the contents in cell A2 (which would have been a legend) with the words “rose by” with the contents in cell D2 (formatted as a %) with the word “from” with the contents in cell D2 (formatted as a %) with a period. It takes a lot of quotation marks to make this happen but it isn’t complicated to figure out. The result is a full sentence that will change based off the data.

Then I added data labels in the graph and then tied one of them to my concatenated sentence.

To make the tie, click on one of the labels. Then go to the formula bar and type an equals sign. Then go click in the cell that has the concatenated sentence. Hit enter. Boom. Now the sentence fills the data label.

And it takes that data label to a whole new level of communicating our findings. Labels can do more than just hold a simple number. And because we hijacked a data label to hold this finding, the finding sentence will be tied to that point of the graph. This means that next year, when the data changes, both the label’s position and the contents of it will automatically change as well.

Pretty cool, right? Anything I can do to make work easier for comrades like Planned Parenthood – and you.

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