How effective Data Storytelling can allow you to design meaningful changes | by Kai Wong | Jan, 2024


The psychology of why facts often don’t work, while stories do

A man, in a casual business attire, teling a story to an audience of people in business and dress suits
Art by midjourney

“We hear statistics, but we feel stories”

When I read those words, in Effective Data Storytelling by Brent Dykes, I found the solution to my design recommendations getting rejected.

At the time, I, like many Designers, felt like I couldn’t make a real difference. I’d get tons of great user feedback and quotes about designs I’d created, highlighting several critical issues to fix.

But my team wasn’t so eager to listen. I could change a button’s color or text, but any large design changes seemed off-limits, even if they were necessary.

I‘d heard quotes like “I’d rather learn a completely new application than deal with these patchwork fixes”, but I simply couldn’t convince my team to do that.

At least, until I learned about Data Storytelling. Learning this skill, along with the psychology of storytelling, helped me understand how to persuade my team.

But to do that, we first need to talk about why I kept failing with facts.

We don’t (always) react to facts logically

Have you ever wondered why people, when presented with facts, still tend to stubbornly hold on to their beliefs?

This is called the backfire effect, and it’s a well-documented effect across everything from politics to culture.

To explain it simply, many people build up a worldview around certain core beliefs. Whether it’s a sports team, a political identity, or (in our case), some core beliefs around users, people have a vested stake in certain subjects and opinions.

When you encounter facts that run contrary to that worldview, your brain can sometimes treat it like a threat.

A panel of a comic that says “Unfortunately, it makes us biologically wried to reacto threatening information the same way we’d react to being attacked by a predator.”

While it’s unlikely that we’re presenting world-shattering beliefs with our presentations, there may be some bitter truths that your team may not want to believe.


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