A Well-Aged Data Story

Like a fine wine, the New York Times’ visual storytelling tends to age well (unlike many dashboards that start out like Ripple and mature into a Thunderbird).

In a recent search through the archives, I came across this gem about the number of swings Derek Jeter, long-time Yankees shortstop, took in his career. Like Jeter, this data story is a multi-tool player, demonstrating many of the skills need to bring real impact for the reader.


Let’s take a look at a few of those skills:


(1) Make data relatable. Right off the bat (sorry), the authors give you a frame of references for how many swings he’s made. As you watch an animation of him swinging, you’re informed that you’d need to watch “nonstop for more than 4 days” to see all his swings.


(2) Teach once, use often. This is another design guideline that I’ve advocated for. As you scroll through this data story, the authors introduce a data visualization model that shows tiny Jeters within a boxed in area. As you zoom further and further out, the Jeters get smaller and smaller, making clear the growing number of swings they represent.


(3) Emphasize take-aways. As the reader explores the gradual expansion of swings, the data story authors are explicit and concise in what they want you to learn from this exercise. Each step gives us another insight — shown as a callout on the side — into the massive volume of swings. The story concludes with a quote from Jeter that emphasizes perhaps the key message from the analysis: he’s been at this for a long time.

These are three of many layers of quality that the New York Times design staff brings to their data storytelling; careful use of color, fonts, layout, and responsive design are a few more. The lesson for me: If you want to refine your taste, drink the good stuff.