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April 30 - May 1, 2025
North Javits Center | New York City

Five Awesome Data Stories

Humans have been telling stories to explain, persuade, entertain or simply to express our thoughts and emotions for much of our history; we have used words and pictures to do so for at least 36,000 years. Numbers and data are often thought of as separate from words and pictures, but combined they are capable of—indeed, data often are captured and stored specifically for—creating some of the most persuasive and compelling storytelling imaginable.

As the amount of data stored by corporations, governments, institutions and individuals continues to expand exponentially, the potential to tell amazing stories grows right alongside. But telling effective stories with data—like effectively communicating through any medium—takes skill and practice. The elements are simple: good data properly analyzed; a simple, clear narrative that communicates insights drawn from the data; and engaging, memorable visualizations that bolster and draw viewers deeper into the story.

The library of astounding stories told through data is growing daily. Some are simple, some are complex, but all strive to communicate important information in novel ways. Here are some examples that have become staff favorites at Data Universe:

Music streaming service Spotify annually delights its millions of users by analyzing their listening habits and presenting each of them a personalized “Spotify Wrapped” at yearend. It is especially capturing its users’ imagination in 2023, available in more markets and more languages (170 and 35, respectively) than ever before.  Among other tidbits, it tells them their “Sound Town” (the city in the world that most matches them from an audio perspective) and presents the relative representation of each musical genre they listened to as the fillings in a sandwich. According to Spotify, “your Wrapped doesn’t lie”—they’re based on data reflecting actual listening habits that make up how people are consuming culture and are being shared and commented on by hundreds of millions of music lovers.

Another example is data storytelling about data—specifically predictive analytics. Lars Verspohl, a data analyst and data visualization engineer with U.K.-based firm Datamake, tries to explain the complex models comprising predictive analytics using wine and math, with a little sloth on the side.

Published in September of 2023, a story by Alvin Chang in The Pudding uses data from the American Time Use Survey to tell the story of loneliness and social isolation in the United States. Using muted colors, it follows 24 hours in a typical day by scrolling though the time and presenting activity and social interaction time for nearly 50 different demographic types. Among other trends, it notes how the steady decline in time spent with family since 2003 is affecting the daily lives of different kinds of people.

Presenting the opposite in human emotion, Nathan Yau, author, researcher and owner of data visualization site FlowingData, worked with data gathered by happiness researchers to explain in an easily digestible way what makes people happy. He did it by analyzing the words of 10,000 poll respondents, tracking the different parts of speech and visualizing how each contributes to happiness.

Brexit by the Numbers” is an oft-cited journalistic piece produced by Sky News that lays out the effects of one of the most consequential geopolitical events of the past decade. It used data like net migration, NHS staffing levels for nurses, GDP and business investment growth, and other factors to demonstrate how the decision to leave the EU has affected Britons in the years since.