13 years, 5 months ago

Creating a compelling visual story

Link: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/nickmalik/archive/2010/12/03/creating-a-compelling-visual-story.aspx

One thing that I’ve become fascinated with over the past few years is the difference between people who have good ideas, and people who use good ideas to bring about change.

I’m not alone to notice that the folks who originate a concept are usually NOT the ones who get the credit for it… it is the person most associated with sharing that idea with the widest number of people in the most consumable manner.  We see this in all fields: technology, industry, science, math, politics, etc.  No matter what field you are in, the ability to create an original idea is not the most important thing: the ability to make that idea understandable, compelling, and consumable is.  In fact, the idea does not have to be new to be made new through a compelling and interesting presentation.

For Enterprise Architects, this is a huge concern.  Most EA folks rise through the ranks of technology or business, in fields that traditionally value accurate and specialized outputs.  For a technologist, this could be source code, a BPMN business process model, an excellent project plan, or a UML architectural diagram with very specific semantics.  For a business person, this could be a financial analysis, a process dashboard, or a quality control performance review.  Specific technical outputs like this are rewarded and people rise through the ranks, many landing in business management, planning, or enterprise architecture positions. 

But now, a new skill is required: the ability to influence your peers.  Business and Enterprise Architects frequently find that their transition into this role is a rocky one, because they go from a world of detailed, well-defined, well ordered artifacts that people use to perform their jobs, to a near-cacophony of variable deliverables that are useful because they motivate leaders and SMEs to change things.  Technical architecture roles are usually design roles.  EA and BA are change-agents.  Talented architects can stop their forward progress at this point, and many will.  Using your considerable technical skills to convince people is not appealing to everyone, and many folks prefer to stay in the world of specific, accurate, and measurable artifacts that well-motivated people are simply expected to use. 

We need to go from presenting data to telling stories.

For this post, and many to follow, I will attempt to highlight an example of a visual story that I found interesting, compelling, or thought provoking.  In each one, I will ask you, the reader, to consider the core elements of the story: What is the central theme?  What action are we hoping to compel?  What element of the story did a good job of catching your attention.  What questions does it raise?

First post is a video that has made it’s rounds on Twitter of late.  This is a visualization of information collected by noted statistician Hans Rosling, presented in a unique and fascinating manner.  First the video:


Now, for the questions to consider:

  • What was Roslings’ purpose in sharing this information with us today?  To inform, to inspire, to motivate, to delay, or to convince? 
  • What makes the presentation credible?  Do we believe him?  Do we trust him?  Why or why not?
  • What makes the presentation enjoyable?  Do we want to hear more about this topic?  Do we want to hear more from this presenter?
  • What makes this presentation memorable?  Is it unexpected?  Concrete?  Simple? 
  • Did the presenter use the information to tell a story?  Are there characters, plot, conflict, and resolution?  Do we identify with it?
  • Could this kind of presentation be used to inspire change?  What would need to be added?


Visual Story Review

Each time I present a visual story, I will also provide my opinion of it using questions like the ones above

I found the presentation very engaging.  The speaker has presented this material before, making references and manipulating the presentation in ways that illustrate a deep understanding of the information underneath it.  He slows down, for example, to illustrate the effects of specific world events.  He draws grand conclusions and illustrates trends.  That builds credibility.  I come away feeling that he is not only a good presenter, but that he is a thought leader that I could trust when I want to use that data.

The presenter makes moderately good use of the technology.  The graphs are interesting and accurate, but the cinematography is not particularly good.  Why film in a loft?  The choice of location (apparently an empty warehouse) detracted from the presentation and made it a little tougher to read.  Plus, with all the technology at his disposal, why use such flat chart graphics?  Three-dimensional objects, especially ones with images of specific country flags, would be been much more compelling than flat mono-color circles.

What he doesn’t do is motivate specific action.  I don’t identify with the data, nor do I use it to affect the choices I make in my daily life.  I don’t know if Roslings is hoping that I will change my behavior, spend more (or less) money, buy (or avoid) certain products, support specific causes, or vote for candidates that share specific ideas.  (It appears that his decision to take an impartial viewpoint was intentional on his part, and I laud him for it).  On the other hand, the presentation DOES inspire me.  His presentation gives me ideas that I can use when I want to tell a story: thoughts about how to visualize information, make it compelling, or boil down a mountain of data to create knowledge.  I can mimic his techniques in my own work, and for that reason, I find the presentation both informative and valuable.

If you have suggestions for specific visual stories that you’d like to share, please send me a link from the blog.  I’ll look into it and if I agree that the presentation is interesting for a discussion on “how to change things,” then I will post it.