Data-Driven Storytelling

Established: May 14, 2012

Practitioners increasingly use visualizations “in the wild” to tell compelling stories supported by data, and continually develop novel techniques that help integrate data visualization into narrative stories. The visualization research community has recently begun to pay more attention to the need and use of visualization as a storytelling medium to tell engaging visual data-driven stories.  In addition to understanding the data story creation process and the techniques used in successful data stories, we explore ways to enable people to easily create data-driven stories.


Visual Narrative Flow

Many factors can shape the flow of visual data-driven stories, and thereby the way readers experience those stories. Through the analysis of 80 existing stories found on popular websites, we systematically investigate and identify seven characteristics of these stories, which we name “flow-factors.” These flow-factors are navigation input, level of control, navigation progress, story layout, role of visualization, story progression, and navigation feedback. We conducted a series of studies, sheding initial light on how different visual narrative flows impact the reading experience. We gathered reactions and preferences of readers for stepper- vs. scroller-driven flows, and explored the effect of the combination of different flow-factors on readers’ engagement.


Timeline Storyteller

Timelines have been used for centuries to visually communicate stories about sequences of events, from historical and biographical data to project plans and medical records. We proposed a design space for expressive storytelling with timelines based on a survey of 263 timelines. In addition, we designed and developed a timeline storytelling tool, called Timeline Storyteller, realizing the expressive potential of the design space.



Annotation plays an important role in conveying key points in visual data-driven storytelling; it helps presenters explain and emphasize core messages and specific data. However, existing charting software provides limited support for creating annotations. We characterize a design space of chart annotations based on a survey of 106 annotated charts published by six prominent news graphics desks. Using this design space, we designed and developed ChartAccent, a tool that allows people to quickly and easily augment charts via a palette of annotation interactions that generate manual and data-driven annotations.



Data videos, or short data-driven motion graphics, are an increasingly popular medium for data-driven storytelling. However, creating data videos is difficult as it involves pulling together a unique combination of skills. We designed and developed DataClips, an authoring tool aimed at lowering the barrier to craft data videos to enable non-experts to assemble data-driven “clips” together to form longer sequences. DataClips provides the library of data clips developed from the analysis of the 70 data videos produced by reputable sources such as The New York Times and The Guardian.


Graph Comics

We explored if we can take advantage of the visual expressiveness and familiarity of comics to present and explain temporal changes in networks to an audience. To understand the potential of comics as a storytelling medium, we first created a variety of comics, involving domain experts from public education and neuroscience. Through this 3 month-long design process, we identified eight design factors for creating graph comics and proposed design solutions for each.



Storytelling Techniques

Storytelling with data is becoming an important component of many fields such as graphic design, the advocacy of causes, and journalism. Authors are enabling new reader experiences, such as linking textual narrative and data visualizations through dynamic queries embedded in the text. Novel means of communicating position and navigating within the narrative also have emerged, such as utilizing scrolling to advance narration and initiate animations. We advance the study of narrative visualization through an analysis of a curated collection of recent data-driven stories shared on the web. Drawing from the results of this analysis, we present a set of techniques being employed in these examples, organized under four high-level categories that help authors tell stories in creative ways.


Storytelling Process

Visualization research on storytelling has mainly centered on how data visualization components contribute to communication. Instead, we argue for expanding our research focus to the whole process of transforming data into visually shared stories, including formative processes such as the crafting of narrative structures. We provide a detailed description of the storytelling process in visualization with regard to activities, artifacts, and roles involved to develop a more encompassing look at the visual storytelling process and to uncover open areas for research.




We open new possibilities of Wordle, a visualization technique commonly used to summarize texts. WordlePlus is an interactive authoring tool that leverages natural interaction and animation. It supports direct manipulation on words with pen and touch interaction, enabling more flexible wordle creation. WordlePlus introduces new two-word multi-touch manipulation, such as concatenating and grouping two words, and provides pen interaction for adding and deleting a word. In addition, WordlePlus employs animation to amplify the strength of Wordle, allowing people to create more dynamic and engaging wordles.



We increasingly encounter an integration of interactive visualizations into data stories in news media, blog posts, etc. However, these stories usually do not provide enough guidance on how to interpret and manipulate the accompanied visualizations. Therefore, readers are often on their own in finding the right state and area of visualization authors intended to show to support their arguments. VisJockey is a technique that enables readers to easily access authors’ intended view through orchestrated visualization. To offload readers’ burden in making connections between the text and the visualization, VisJockey augments the visualization through highlight, annotation, and animation.



To create a new, more engaging form of storytelling with data, we leverage and extend the narrative storytelling attributes of whiteboard animation with pen and touch interactions. SketchStory is a data-enabled digital whiteboard that facilitates the creation of personalized and expressive data charts quickly and easily. SketchStory recognizes a small set of sketch gestures for chart invocation, and automatically completes charts by synthesizing the visuals from the presenter-provided example icon and binding them to the underlying data. Furthermore, SketchStory allows the presenter to move and size the completed data charts with touch, and filter the underlying data to facilitate interactive exploration.