Skip to content

Data Storytelling in Video

I'm not a fan of video. I don't spend time randomly surfing YouTube, and when given the choice between reading an article and watching a video, I'll read. The reason is that videos often don't work well for me: they're too fast or too slow, they take a long time to get to the point, they don't let me skip around and browse easily. I'd rather be in control than having the information pre-packaged for me. But two examples have surfaced in the last few days that show data visualization can tell a very effective story in well-designed, well-paced videos.

Inequality in America

This video called Inequality in America has made the rounds on social media in the last few days, and as of this writing has over three million views. This is a great example of how you walk people through a fairly complex set of data and explain things like quintiles quite clearly. Sure, it's not high-dimensional or Big Data, but it's complex enough that many people will struggle understanding it (comparing distributions is hard).

The video is paced well and has a nice dramatic structure: not all is revealed right away, so it builds the story up nicely and then makes its main point close to the end. This level of clarity would be needed for a lot more information, and it's a shame that there aren't many more examples like this.

The Economist: Diminuendo

The Economist just released a "video chart" about music sales. It is much simpler than the above one, but it does a fair bit of storytelling about a simple stacked bar chart. The trick here is that these charts can be easy to just skip over without really looking at what they're telling you. By walking the viewer through the chart, you get a better sense of what's in there and why they chose to make that chart.

(This video is not embedded because there doesn't seem to be a way of turning off the rather obnoxious auto-play. Another reason I dislike videos 😉

Granted, this is really simple, and most people would be able to figure it out. But I'm guessing that The Economist is planning on also doing this with more complex charts and stories. Also, the comparison of downloads at the end could have used some more love, but overall it's surprisingly effective and well-paced.

Hans Rosling: Human Development Index

Finally, no posting about video would be complete without the grand-daddy of all data-based communication videos, Hans Rosling's famous talk at TED 2006 using the gapminder tool. The amount of information he gets across, the steps, the pacing, and the enthusiasm are still unmatched. If you have seen this before, it's worth watching again. If you haven't seen it, you have to watch it now.

Posted by Robert Kosara on March 6, 2013.