Data visualisation trends and challenges: AMA with Data Journalism Handbook 2 authors

Conversations with Data: #24

Do you want to receive Conversations with Data? Subscribe

Conversations WData header 1

Hi there,

Today, we’re sending a very special edition of Conversations with Data -- it’s our first officially connected with!

In case you’ve been too busy to fully explore it, be sure to check out our new video courses, long reads, newsletter archive, and community forums, where you can continue our conversations.

1 u Ojeq Pi R06w6j FEBt V00Ig is also the new home to our much-loved Data Journalism Handbooks, so it’s fitting that we have our data visualisation authors with us for this edition’s AMA. Let’s see what they had to say!

What you asked

Our first question is from our data newbies. It can be confusing to start understanding and applying design concepts, so you asked:

How should I pick a visualisation design that fits my dataset and what it wants to say?

Will Allen says: “There are lots of different chart types and design choices available to people wanting to visualise data. Each dataset presents its own unique combination of features, which lend themselves to particular choices. Fortunately, there are several good resources that provide guidance to help you choose. One of these is Andy Kirk’s book Data Visualisation: A Handbook for Data-Driven Design. Another is this online guide that explains how to read some of the most common chart types. Finally, The Financial Times (a UK-based newspaper) developed a useful poster that explains why particular charts are better suited for expressing certain kinds of ‘stories’ within datasets.”

Reading charts

Seeing Data provides a useful online guide, which steps you through reading different chart types effectively.

So, to make a visualisation have impact, what is the most important thing that data journalists should know about audiences?

Rosemary Lucy Hill says: “Audiences are very diverse. Their educational and socio-cultural backgrounds, gender, age, ethnicity, and political views all mean that they are likely to view the same visualisation differently. There are simple things that data journalists can do to make visualisations more impactful across this diversity of users, all of which make them easier to understand. These include: give the visualisation a good, descriptive title; include keys, legends and labels; use high contrast colours that colour blind people can differentiate; put a ‘how to read this chart’ box next to the visualisation; and use text to draw out the key points.”

Moving to newsrooms, what is the most important data visualisation trend for them to be aware of and why?

Wibke Weber says: “The most important newsroom trend for data visualisation is mobile-first. It has become a design principle for data visualisation because more and more people access news and other information via smartphones. Designing for mobile devices means taking the affordances and the usability of small screens into account. This leads to data visualisations that are less interactive, less complex, and more simple in their visual forms. It leads to what we call ‘scrollytelling’: telling data stories that reveal themselves as users scroll down."

And what about data visualisations firms? With so many out there, how should newsrooms decide when to hire one?

Helen Kennedy says: “When to hire one is relatively straightforward – when you haven’t got the in-house resource to do what you want to do. Which one to hire is slightly trickier. You can assess the quality of the work that datavis firms are producing by interacting with them – this guide, produced by Andy Kirk for the Seeing Data project – is designed to help you carry out such an assessment.

Check out firms’ presence on social media too – are they widely followed? Do they seem to be esteemed by others working in the field? And ask yourselves if you like their visual style.

However, newsrooms are increasingly hiring in their own datavis expertise, and developing bespoke, in-house data visualisation tools that can be used by journalists who are not expert in such matters. This helps to ensure that all datavis that are produced conform to house style, and that they are widely embedded across news stories.”

Finally, what is the biggest challenge facing visual storytellers today and what can be done about it?

Martin Engebretsen says: “I believe there are two equally big challenges facing visual storytellers today. The first one is the lack of time and attention. People read in a hurry, and they tend to be easily disturbed. That means that visual storytellers need to connect meaning to visual forms in ways that are more or less intuitively understood, and to create a very clear storyline. The other challenge is about trust. In an era of fake news, visual storytellers need to be very explicit about their sources and methods.”

For more on trends and challenges, read the team’s full Data Journalism Handbook 2 chapter, Data Visualisations: Newsroom Trends and Everyday Engagements.

Our next conversation

To mark the launch of, we also released two highly anticipated video courses from Winny de Jong:

Winny de Jong is data journalist at the Dutch national broadcaster NOS, and we’re excited to have her join us for an AMA in our next edition. Submit a question in our forum.

As always, don’t forget to let us know what you’d like us to feature in our future editions.

Until next time,

Madolyn from the EJC Data team

subscribe figure