Sketch Your Data Story

Before you dive deeply into software, think about the most important item in your toolkit: your story. The primary reason we’re designing visualizations is to improve how we communicate our data story to other people, so let’s begin there.

Push away the computer and pick up some old-school tools:

  • colored markers or pencils
  • lots of blank paper
  • your imagination

First, at the top of the page, write down your data story.

  • Is it in the form of a question? If so, figure out how to pose the question. [Use some of this from ch 3? – Start the process by writing down your question—literally in the form of a question, punctuated with a question mark—to clarify your own thinking, and also so that you can clearly communicate it to others who may be assisting you. All too often, our brains automatically jump ahead to try to identify the answer, without reflecting on the best way frame the question in a way that does not limit the range of possible results.]
  • Or maybe it’s in the form of an answer to that question? If so, spell out your clearest statement.
  • If you’re lucky, perhaps you already can envision a full story, with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Whatever form it takes in your head, write out the words that come to mind.

Further down the page (or on a separate sheet), draw quick pictures of the visualizations that comes to your mind, even if you don’t yet have any data. No artistic skills are required. Just use your imagination. - Do you envision some type of chart? Sketch a picture. - Or do you imagine some type of map? Show what it might look like. - Will your visualization be interactive? Insert arrows, buttons, whatever.

Finally, share your data story with someone else and talk through your preliminary ideas. Does your sketch and sentences help to convey the broader idea that you’re trying to communicate? If so, this is one good sign that your data story is worth pursuing, with the visualization tools, templates, and techniques in other chapters of this book.

Now that you have a clearer idea of the data story you wish to tell, let’s explore some of the free digital tools featured in this book, and questions you should ask yourself when choosing among them.