Knaflic, Cole Nussbaumer. Storytelling with data: let’s practice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2020. xxi, 427 p. ISBN: 978-1-119-62149-2. $39.95.
The book is a follow-up of the book Storytelling with data: a data visualization guide for business professionals (Knaflic, 2015) written by the same author. While this review focuses only on the second book, it is useful to know a little about the previous book. The subtitle of the previous book tells us about who the audience is. Both books are business oriented with a focus on marketing. Nevertheless, I do think that both books are very suitable for library and information professionals too, as there are many relevant lessons to learn.
From an academic perspective, there is a lack of references to research in the second book, whereas the first book has few of them. From my perspective as a teacher and a researcher at the university level, I find the connection with theory a bit weak. However, the reasoning in the book does resonate well with my understanding of the theories underlying visualisation and storytelling. From a teaching point of view, a good companion to this book would be The functional art by Cairo (2013). Another relevant point to mention is that the book focuses on data that are in some way already prepared, such as a some charts and tables to work with, and not on how to select data from a complex dataset.
The main strength of the book lies in the pedagogical structure. The book takes the reader through necessary steps such as understanding context (chapter 1), choosing an effective visual (chapter 2), eliminating clutter (chapter 3), focusing attention (chapter 4), thinking like a designer (chapter 5) and telling a story (chapter 6). All these steps are broken down in smaller steps, which take the reader through the process of data storytelling. Knaflic finds a reasonable order of the chapters, starting with context and other important lessons that the reader needs before learning about telling a story. Chapter six ties it all together, although there are instances of a story in the previous examples too, which Knaflic returns to in the beginning of the sixth chapter:
Some elements of story relate to things that came up when we explored context in Chapter 1 - why didn’t we discuss story then? For me, this is the natural progression. Start with context, audience, and message. Time spent there will serve you well even if you don't take things full course and employ story.
Each of these six chapters includes exercises with solutions, named 'Practice with Cole', where the author walks the reader through the suggested steps, discussing the implications of the solutions and pointing out potential problems. Alongside these examples, there are also exercises for the reader to do on their own, and questions for the reader to think about and discuss. In chapter 7, more 'Practice with Cole' examples take the reader through all the six steps, followed by chapters 8 and 9 focused on examples for the reader to do on their own.
I would recommend this book to any library and information professional interested in data storytelling. Depending on context and interest, it could be combined with a book with a solid theoretical foundation, or perhaps a book about preparing data from complex datasets.
- Cairo, A. (2013). The functional art: an introduction to information graphics and visualization. Berkley, CA: New Riders.
- Knaflic, C.N. (2015). Storytelling with Data: a data visualization guide for business professionals. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
David Gunnarsson Lorentzen (PhD)
Swedish School of Library and Information Science
University of Borås
How to cite this review
Gunnarsson Lorentzen, D. (2021). Review of: Knaflic, Cole Nussbaumer. Storytelling with data: let’s practice. Wiley, 2020. Information Research, 26(1), review no. R709 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs709.html]
Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.