From Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations, a diagram based on Salman Rushdie‘s description of the Indian epid Kathasaritsagara or Ocean of the Streams of Story.
The hot new concept in data visualization is “data storytelling”; some are calling it the next evolution of visualization (I’m one of them). However, we’re early in the discussion and there are more questions than answers:
- Is data storytelling more than a catchy phrase?
- Where does data storytelling fit into the broader landscape of data exploration, visualization, and presentation?
- How can the traditional tools of storytelling improve how we communicate with data?
- Is it more about story-telling or story-finding?
Many of the bright minds in the data visualization field have started to tackle these questions — and it is something that we’ve been exploring at Juice in our work. Below you’ll find a collection of some of the best blog posts, presentations, research papers, and other resources that take on this topic.
Note: I’ve excluded a lot of excellent sites and articles that use the phase data storytelling, but treat it as fresh way to talk about data visualization.
1. Blog Posts
Storytelling with Data: What Are the Impacts on the Audience? by Nick Diakopoulos
“I realize there’s a whole lot of inspiration out there, and some damn fine examples of great work, but I still find it hard to get a sense of direction…We need to know what makes a data story “work”. And what does a data story that “works” even mean?”
A Data Scientist’s Real Job: Storytelling by Jeff Bladt and Bob Filbin
“In short, we’re tasked with transforming data into directives. Good analysis parses numerical outputs into an understanding of the organization. We “humanize” the data by turning raw numbers into a story about our performance.”
Coffee & Empathy: Why data without a soul is meaningless by Om Malik
“The idea of combining data, emotion and empathy as part of a narrative is something every company — old, new, young and mature — has to internalize. If they don’t, they will find themselves on the wrong side of history.”
Look ma, no story! by Moritz Stefaner
“Tools have no stories to them. Tools can reveal stories, help us tell stories, but they are neither the story itself nor the storyteller. Portraits have no story to them either. Like a photo portrait of a person, a visualization portrait of a data set can allow you to capture many facets of a bigger whole, but there is not a single story there, either.”
Discussion: Storytelling and success stories by Andy Kirk
“I just wanted to share my view on the distinction I personally make between the two main types of visualisation function: exploratory and explanatory”
The secret to storytelling is in the editing by Garr Reynolds
“Although it is a film about the role of editing in filmmaking, the lessons and principles are applicable to other creative work such as writing, and storytelling of all kinds, including presentations.”
Visualising data: can you see stories? by Chris Twigg
“Narrative can on the one hand be broken down into a set of universal laws and principles that may transcend mediums. Stories have temporality in common (they deal with time) as well as causation (they deal with cause and effect of something). On the other hand there are the more media specific narrative affordances as for example in the way that film, opera, novel and data visualisation – because of their physicality and the dimensions open to them – would be able to give a different ‘staging’ of a story.”
Data Visualization as Storytelling: A Stretched Analogy by Zach Gemignani
“For practitioners of the craft, connecting our work to stories feels satisfying — it is a call to raise our standards and an opportunity to enhance the influence of our field. Stories evoke images of rapt audiences, dramatic arcs, and unexpected plot twists. Unfortunately this analogy is a stretch.”
Why good storytelling helps you design great products by Braden Kowitz
“It’s not uncommon for designers to confuse a beautiful looking product with one that works beautifully. A great technique for creating smarter, better products is to approach them using story-centered design.”
How might rhetoric inform information design? (Quora) and related blog post by Stewart McCoy
How to Tell Stories with Data (Really) by Edward Segal
Visualising Workflow: Findings Stories and Telling Stories by Andy Kirk
Storytelling with data visualization: Questions and challenges by Albert Cairo
Storytelling with Data by Jonathan Corum
3. Research Papers
Visualization Rhetoric: Framing Effects in Narrative Visualization by Nick Diakopoulos (Summary, Research Paper)
“We carefully analyzed 51 narrative visualizations and constructed a taxonomy of rhetorical techniques we found being used. We observed rhetorical techniques being employed at four different editorial layers of a visualization: data, visual representation, annotations, and interactivity. The five main classes of rhetoric we found being used include: information access (e.g. how data is omitted or aggregated), provenance (e.g. how data sources are explained and how uncertainty is shown), mapping (e.g. the use of visual metaphor), linguistic techniques (e.g. irony or apostrophe), and procedural rhetoric (e.g. how default views anchor interpretation).”
Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data by E. Segel and J. Heer
(Abstract, Research Paper)
“We systematically review the design space of this emerging class of visualizations. Drawing on case studies from news media to visualization research, we identify distinct genres of narrative visualization. We characterize these design differences, together with interactivity and messaging, in terms of the balance between the narrative flow intended by the author (imposed by graphical elements and the interface) and story discovery on the part of the reader (often through interactive exploration).”
Storytelling: The Next Step for Visualization by Robert Kosara and Jack Mackinlay
“Presentation and communication of data have so far played a minor role in visualization research, with most work focused on exploration and analysis. We propose that presentation, in particular using elements from storytelling, is the next logical step and should be a research focus of at least equal importance as each of the other two.”
What Storytelling Can Do for Information Visualization (PDF) by Nahum Gershon and Ward Page
“Effective presentations using the storytelling approach require skills like those familiar to movie directors, beyond a technical expert’s knowledge of computer engineering and science. Creating a presentation is not just a matter of being literate in visual media and storytelling but depends on a frame of mind that caters to other modes of human information processing and thinking.”
The Enchanted Imagination: Storytelling’s Power to Entrance Listeners
“While storytelling has flourished, there has not been a concomitant surge in research of the art form. One element of storytelling has remained nearly unconsidered, and it is, perhaps, the most profound and influential characteristic of storytelling: its power to entrance those who listen.”
4. Tools, Examples, and Other Resources
Hans Rosling’s TED Talks
“What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus.”
Robert McKee, Godfather of Storytelling (Wikipedia)
Rather than simply handling “mechanical” aspects of fiction technique such as plot or dialogue taken individually, McKee examines the narrative structure of a work and what makes the story compelling or not. This could work equally as well as an analysis of any other genre or form of narrative, whether in screenplay or any other form, and could also encompass nonfiction works as long as they attempt to “tell a story”.
Stories Through Data
Exploring storytelling in data visualization. A collection of visualizations sorted by Chris Twigg’s narrative analysis framework.
13pt Information Graphics
Gallery of examples from the studio of Jonathan Corum, an information designer and science graphics editor at The New York Times.
A free and collaborative taxonomy of Data Storytelling tools by Philippe Nieuwbourg
“To summarize my investigations around data storytelling tools I created a mind map. This map will be an up-to-date taxonomy / ontology / typology, of software available on the market, to create stories around data.”
“An independent website, dedicated to storytelling around data.”
Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling
“Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.”
Bob Beamon’s Long Olympic Shadow by Kevin Quealy and Graham Roberts (NYT)