Infographic: The Rise of Data Storytelling
Humanity is creating more data than ever before, and more of that data is publicly accessible.
While “data is the new oil” has almost become a cliché, the impact that data abundance is having on the world is undeniable. All of the world’s most valuable companies are heavily reliant on data for their continued success. Even oil giant Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company, runs a 6,000 m² data center, and is partnering with Google Cloud.
In a world where nearly everything is quantified, communicating insights from that data becomes a massive opportunity. This is where data storytelling comes in. In simple terms, it’s the difference between simply making a chart, and actually explaining what it means, why it’s important, and how it fits into the broader context. This style of data-driven communication is cropping up everywhere, from newsrooms to corporate communications.
Here, we examine five megatrends fueling the rise of data storytelling.
① Information Overload
It’s estimated that between 2015 and 2025, the world will see a 16-fold increase in data.
- The bad news: The rising tide of information is growing faster than our ability to harness it
- The good news: This growing universe of data holds the promise of more insight, if properly utilized
Thankfully, data storytelling is an emerging field that thrives on information abundance.
As our society and economy grow more complex, more high-quality, actionable information is critical for today’s decision makers.
② Declining Trust in Media
Trust in news media has been declining for decades, and in many countries around the world, the majority of people don’t feel that media is a trustworthy source of information.
Trust in social media is similarly shaky. Only one-third of people surveyed around the world believe that social media is a trustworthy source of information. As well, a recent poll found that 75% of U.S. adults felt that political views were likely being censored by social media platforms.
The mass media ecosystem as it currently exists is facing a crisis of confidence. When a system is no longer adequately serving the needs of its users, that system is ripe for disruption.
③ Winner-Take-All Dynamics
This information abundance should be propelling humankind forward, but more often than not, valuable insights are lost in the noise—either poorly presented or pushed to the margins by clickbait and other distractions.
Today, most of us rely on algorithms and aggregators to deliver information to us. Over time, those systems become very good at feeding us information that is generally what we’re looking for. The downside, however, is that engagement-driven algorithms reward only the most compelling narratives. The handful of stories you see are the result of fierce, darwinistic competition on platforms like Twitter or Medium.
This hyper-competitive environment is part of the reason there are so many problems with media today—clickbait and tabloidization being two prominent examples.
Data storytelling takes potentially dry, complex topics and makes them more accessible, compelling, and more likely to win the battle for people’s attention.
④ Moving Beyond Text
Many of our existing systems look the way they do in part because of past technological limitations.
Search engines, for example, are still largely driven by text-based considerations. This makes sense as the early internet was essentially a collection of pages with text and hyperlinks.
Today, search engines are much better taking other forms of information into consideration, and technological advancements are breaking new ground in analyzing video and data visualizations. Advancements in AI could soon allow users to search for visualizations in ways that don’t even involve text keywords.
In a future where searching for information in a visual format is as intuitive as a Google search today, the utility and reach of data storytelling will increase dramatically.
⑤ Democratization of Data Storytelling
Even as the number of people with professional credentials in data analytics, data science, and other similar professions is on the rise, it’s never been easier for laypersons to create and publish high quality visualizations.
Free tools which are usable on almost any device have broken down barriers of access for millions of people around the world. There is now a universe of resources for people and organizations looking to convert data into a compelling visual format.
Below is a shortlist of data storytelling resources ranging from the intuitive design tools to powerful coding language libraries:
|Resources for getting started|
|Visualization selection||Data Viz Project||From Data to Viz||Storytelling With Data|
|Color selection||Adobe Color CC||Paletton||Colors on the Web|
|Bringing data to life|
|Classic||Microsoft Excel||Adobe Creative Suite||Google Data Studio|
|Web apps||RAW Graphs||Flourish||Datawrapper|
|Powerful, specialized resources|
Of course there are many more resources out there, and we’ll be covering this more comprehensively in the future.
The Last Mile
The concept of “the last mile” is typically associated with e-commerce. Fulfillment can be centralized in massive hubs and delivery can be optimized with uniform trucks and precise routes, but neighborhoods and residences refuse to conform to rigid standards. The last mile is where the orderly world of logistics fragments into randomness, making this leg of the journey the thorniest problem for companies like Amazon to solve.
This last mile analogy lends itself to communication as well. Analytics and datasets can be polished and made publicly accessible, but the real world is messy. Humans are unpredictable, each with their own style of learning and varying levels of data literacy.
Also, unlike e-commerce—which begins with a defined request—insight comes in unexpected flashes. Those moments of serendipity need the right conditions to occur, and the fact of the matter is, most sources of high quality information (databases, white papers, reports, etc.) are only accessed by the small number of people who conduct research for a living.
This is the great opportunity presented by data storytelling. High quality information is distilled into a form that is more digestible, memorable, and sharable, allowing more people to benefit from this era of information abundance.
Put simply: data storytelling bridges the gap between under-utilized knowledge and the growing number of people who are striving to separate the signal from the noise.
Where Will the World’s Next 1,000 Babies Be Born?
This graphic paints a picture of the world’s population, showing which countries are most likely to welcome the next 1,000 babies.
Where Will the World’s Next 1,000 Babies Be Born?
View a higher resolution version of this map.
Every four minutes, approximately 1,000 babies are born across the globe. But in which countries are these babies the most statistically likely to come from?
Using data from the CIA World Factbook, this graphic by Pratap Vardhan (Stats of India) paints a picture of the world’s demographics, showing which countries are most likely to welcome the next 1,000 babies based on population and birth rates as of 2022 estimates.
The Next 1,000 Babies, By Country
Considering India has a population of nearly 1.4 billion, it’s fairly unsurprising that it ranks first on the list. Of every 1,000 babies born, the South Asian country accounts for roughly 172 of them.
|Place||Region||Births Per 1,000 Global Babies|
|🇨🇩 Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Africa||31.90|
|🇺🇸 United States||Americas||30.42|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||Africa||7.84|
|🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire||Africa||5.97|
|🇧🇫 Burkina Faso||Africa||5.41|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||Europe||5.37|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||Asia||3.69|
|🇸🇸 South Sudan||Africa||3.19|
|🇰🇵 Korea, North||Asia||2.71|
|🇰🇷 Korea, South||Asia||2.63|
|🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||Asia||2.35|
|🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||Africa||2.06|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||Oceania||2.04|
|🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||Americas||1.42|
|🇨🇫 Central African Republic||Africa||1.31|
|🇨🇬 Congo, Republic of the||Africa||1.30|
|🇸🇻 El Salvador||Americas||0.86|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||Asia||0.79|
|🇨🇷 Costa Rica||Americas||0.55|
|🇵🇸 West Bank||Asia||0.54|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||Oceania||0.47|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||Asia||0.43|
|🇵🇸 Gaza Strip||Asia||0.41|
|🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea||Africa||0.37|
|🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina||Europe||0.24|
|🇵🇷 Puerto Rico||Americas||0.18|
|🇲🇰 North Macedonia||Europe||0.16|
|🇸🇧 Solomon Islands||Oceania||0.12|
|🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago||Americas||0.11|
|🇨🇻 Cabo Verde||Africa||0.08|
|🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe||Africa||0.04|
|🇧🇸 Bahamas, The||Americas||0.04|
|🇳🇨 New Caledonia||Oceania||0.03|
|🇵🇫 French Polynesia||Oceania||0.03|
|🇱🇨 Saint Lucia||Americas||0.01|
|🇫🇲 Micronesia, Federated States of||Oceania||0.01|
|🇲🇭 Marshall Islands||Oceania||0.01|
|🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda||Americas||0.01|
|🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Americas||0.01|
|🇻🇮 Virgin Islands||Americas||0.01|
|🇮🇲 Isle of Man||Europe||0.01|
|🇲🇵 Northern Mariana Islands||Oceania||0.01|
|🇹🇨 Turks and Caicos Islands||Americas||0.01|
|🇫🇴 Faroe Islands||Europe||0.01|
|🇦🇸 American Samoa||Oceania||0.01|
|🇰🇾 Cayman Islands||Americas||0.01|
|🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis||Americas||0.00|
|🇸🇽 Sint Maarten||Americas||0.00|
|🇲🇫 Saint Martin||Americas||0.00|
|🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands||Americas||0.00|
|🇸🇲 San Marino||Europe||0.00|
|🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna||Oceania||0.00|
|🇨🇰 Cook Islands||Oceania||0.00|
|🇸🇭 Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha||Africa||0.00|
|🇧🇱 Saint Barthelemy||Americas||0.00|
|🇫🇰 Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)||Americas||0.00|
|🇵🇲 Saint Pierre and Miquelon||Americas||0.00|
It’s worth noting that, while India ranks number one on the list, the country’s birth rate (which is its total number of births in a year per 1,000 individuals) is actually slightly below the global average, at 16.8 compared to 17.7 respectively.
China, which comes second on the list, is similar to India, with a high population but relatively low birth rate as well. On the other hand, Nigeria, which ranks third on the list, has a birth rate that’s nearly double the global average, at 34.2.
Why is Nigeria’s birth rate so high?
There are various intermingling factors at play, but one key reason is the fact that Nigeria’s economy still is developing, and ranks 131st globally in terms of GDP per capita. Further, access to education for women is still not as widespread as it could be, and research shows that this is strongly correlated with higher birth rates.
The World’s Population Growth Rate is Declining
While there are hundreds of thousands of babies born around the world each day, it’s worth mentioning that the world’s overall population growth rate has actually been declining since the 1960s.
This is happening for a number of reasons, including:
- Increased wealth around the world, which research has correlated with fewer births
- Various government policies discouraging large families
- The global shift from rural to urban living
By 2100, global population growth is expected to drop to 0.1%, which means we’ll essentially reach net-zero population growth.
This would increase our global median age even further, which poses a number of economic risks if countries don’t properly prepare for this demographic shift.
All the Contents of the Universe, in One Graphic
We explore the ultimate frontier: the composition of the entire known universe, some of which are still being investigated today.
All the Contents of the Universe, in One Graphic
Scientists agree that the universe consists of three distinct parts: everyday visible (or measurable) matter, and two theoretical components called dark matter and dark energy.
These last two are theoretical because they have yet to be directly measured—but even without a full understanding of these mysterious pieces to the puzzle, scientists can infer that the universe’s composition can be broken down as follows:
|Free hydrogen and helium||4%|
Let’s look at each component in more detail.
Dark energy is the theoretical substance that counteracts gravity and causes the rapid expansion of the universe. It is the largest part of the universe’s composition, permeating every corner of the cosmos and dictating how it behaves and how it will eventually end.
Dark matter, on the other hand, has a restrictive force that works closely alongside gravity. It is a sort of “cosmic cement” responsible for holding the universe together. Despite avoiding direct measurement and remaining a mystery, scientists believe it makes up the second largest component of the universe.
Free Hydrogen and Helium
Free hydrogen and helium are elements that are free-floating in space. Despite being the lightest and most abundant elements in the universe, they make up roughly 4% of its total composition.
Stars, Neutrinos, and Heavy Elements
All other hydrogen and helium particles that are not free-floating in space exist in stars.
Stars are one of the most populous things we can see when we look up at the night sky, but they make up less than one percent—roughly 0.5%—of the cosmos.
Neutrinos are subatomic particles that are similar to electrons, but they are nearly weightless and carry no electrical charge. Although they erupt out of every nuclear reaction, they account for roughly 0.3% of the universe.
Heavy elements are all other elements aside from hydrogen and helium.
Elements form in a process called nucleosynthesis, which takes places within stars throughout their lifetimes and during their explosive deaths. Almost everything we see in our material universe is made up of these heavy elements, yet they make up the smallest portion of the universe: a measly 0.03%.
How Do We Measure the Universe?
In 2009, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched a space observatory called Planck to study the properties of the universe as a whole.
Its main task was to measure the afterglow of the explosive Big Bang that originated the universe 13.8 billion years ago. This afterglow is a special type of radiation called cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR).
Temperature can tell scientists much about what exists in outer space. When investigating the “microwave sky”, researchers look for fluctuations (called anisotropy) in the temperature of CMBR. Instruments like Planck help reveal the extent of irregularities in CMBR’s temperature, and inform us of different components that make up the universe.
You can see below how the clarity of CMBR changes over time with multiple space missions and more sophisticated instrumentation.
What Else is Out There?
Scientists are still working to understand the properties that make up dark energy and dark matter.
NASA is currently planning a 2027 launch of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, an infrared telescope that will hopefully help us in measuring the effects of dark energy and dark matter for the first time.
As for what’s beyond the universe? Scientists aren’t sure.
There are hypotheses that there may be a larger “super universe” that contains us, or we may be a part of one “island” universe set apart from other island multiverses. Unfortunately we aren’t able to measure anything that far yet. Unravelling the mysteries of the deep cosmos, at least for now, remains a local endeavor.