The Fifth Elephant 2014

A conference on big data and analytics

Amit Kapoor


Crafting Visual Stories with Data

Submitted Mar 29, 2014

Data visualisation has enabled us to compress data and express them visually in many interesting new ways. It is often cited that we are trying to tell stories through them. But, the science of data-visual-stories is still very nascent and developing. On the other hand, the art of storytelling through spoken and written words, pictures, comics and movies is very well developed and understood. Lets explore ‘why’ stories work and how can we combine the science and art together to craft visual stories with data.


“I think people have begun to forget how powerful human stories are, ex-changing their sense of empathy for a fetishistic fascination with data, networks, patterns, and total information... Really, the data is just part of the story. The human stuff is the main stuff, and the data should enrich it.” - Jonathan Harris

Stories have been recognized for their power of communication & persuasion for centuries. There is an increasingly realisation that we need to operate at this intersection of data, visual and stories to fully harness the power of big data.

In this session, I will showcase the basic building blocks of storytelling across different mediums - oral storytelling, journalistic written stories, graphic comics and movies. And then explore the idea that we can integerate narrative storytelling lessons from these mediums with our data visualisation to start crafting visual stories with data.

I will summarize basic design principles that can help us in our crafting journey, as we take the data through the layers of abstraction - See the Data | Show the Visual | Tell the Story | Engage the Audience. The focus would be on sharing ‘why’ stories work and aim to unpack the six dimensions of creating a data-visual-story.

  1. Abstraction (data patterns)
  2. Representation (visual encoding)
  3. Framing & Tranisition (perspective, focus)
  4. Messaging (verbal, text annotation)
  5. Flow (arrangement)
  6. Interactivity

I will be using exemplars from my work and other real-world data-stories to explore this topic.


No technical skills needed. Just be open and willing to practice the art of listening, observing and learning.

Speaker bio

I am interested in learning and teaching the craft of telling visual stories with data. I use storytelling and data visualization as tools for improving communication, persuasion and leadership. I am a partner at narrativeviz Consulting where I conduct workshops and trainings for corporates, non-profits, colleges, and individuals. I also teach sessions on storytelling with data as invited expert / guest faculty in data visualization and analytics related courses at IIM Bangalore and IIM Ahmedabad. My background is in strategy consulting in using data-driven stories to drive change across organizations and businesses. I have more than 12 years of consulting experience, first with AT Kearney in India and then with Booz & Company in Europe. I did my B.Tech from IIT, Delhi and PGDM from IIM, Ahmedabad. You can find more about me at and tweet me at @amitkaps



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