I spent a really enjoyable few hours ensconced in the comfort of Deutsche Bank’s hospitality suite last Thursday. I’d been due to speak at the Silverman Research event, data visualisation and storytelling, but had been bumped due to scheduling issues. To be honest, I was glad; it meant I could happily listen and participate without the stresses of speaking. In a room full of people from revered brands like Coca Cola, PwC, John Lewis, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Unilever and M&S (to name a VERY small handful), we had the joy of listening to a bunch of really great speakers including Emma Whitehead from the Guardian, Jaqui Taylor from Flying Binary and Rishi Nalin Kumar from Unilever. The speakers covered data visualisation and storytelling, all from different points of view, but all stressing the importance of the audience, that messages need to be kept simple and meaningful to make the data being visualised more accessible.

It was Emma’s talk that really struck a chord with me. She explained how data visualisation is nothing new. Historically, people were representing data in charts and columns since the 11th century (and even earlier). In the eighteenth century, William Playfair was drawing all sorts of charts about economics (do a Google image search for William Playfair and you’ll see what I mean). More recently, in the 19th century, there have been some beautiful data images representing mountains and rivers, think Henry Tanner and Augustus Mitchell. Then, even more recently, cool crazy stuff about the Hobbit.

What all these great works have in common is they reveal insights. They make data more accessible and easy to digest and they have the potential to make this data sing out to a new audience. The data is suited to the audience and tells a story. And, what’s more, they’re beautiful.

Looking back on how the presentation of data has changed over hundreds of years, I wonder what we’ll be doing in the next century. Emma mentioned how we need to be careful with our use of interactive infographics as people’s patience with software is running out. So how else can we present data? What more can we be doing to make it more accessible and meaningful to a whole variety of audiences?

Coming back in to our office in Farnham, I took stock of the data visualisation we have done here at theblueballroom. We’re sticklers for weaving a meaningful story into strategy, change or any communication. I looked back at some of the infographics and strategy stories we have created for our clients and saw them with fresh eyes. I’m proud to say they’re simple, accessible, meaningful – and, what’s more, beautiful too. But Emma’s talk made me want to break new boundaries and try fresh, new ideas with data visualisation. I’ll certainly be sharing some new thinking with our clients in the weeks ahead. If you too would like to bounce some ideas around with us, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Image thanks to neoformiix.com