Recently Ted Carling, Ecotone’s co-founder, joined Arlene Birt from Background Stories in hosting a session for Twin Cities Startup Week called “Using Data Visualization to Tell Your Story and Grow your Business”. Background Stories is an infodesign consultancy founded by Arlene Birt and our key partner in visualizing the impact data for all of our Impact Overview projects. Visually displaying the measures and outcomes that Ecotone identifies makes the value of the impact easy to understand. Giving our clients an easy way to show donors, investors, board members, etc, their impact without needing as much context or explanation. In this short 45 minute session Arlene wonderfully explains why data visualization is so essential, and how to begin to use visualization techniques to make data more understandable. Here are a few quick takeaways from the session:

People understand things better when they’re shown in a visual way. In short, data is complicated and can be hard to understand, especially since only 17% of the population is data literate 1. A great example of this is that when people follow directions that include illustrations they actually do 323% better than when using text instructions alone2.

Visualization is an easy way to convey complex ideas to the everyday person. Using graphics and pictures to arrange information can make complex data much easier to comprehend. This can be seen in Ecotone’s projects. Before Arlene and Background Stories was involved our information looked like this (Figure 1). It’s great information, but hard to understand for some people. Now it looks like this (Figure 2). It conveys all of the measures and information clearly, it’s easy to understand, and it draws people in. 

Data visualization may sound intimidating, making your data more visual is actually easy to begin to do. How? Well the first goal is to create a story with your images, so show connections using pictures. Another tip is to give numbers context. As an example Arlene showed an image with different types of fruit and the amount of pollinator visits it needs in order to be pollinated. Instead of only writing the number, there are also dotted-lines going to and from the fruit based on the number of visits needed. Which shows the visual difference in amounts. 


2) 1982 paper by Howard Levie & Richard Lentz “Effects of text illustrations” A review of research”

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