Some things I learned about data-driven storytelling in Schloss Dagstuhl

Moritz Stefaner
Feb 13, 2016 · 4 min read
Image for post
Image for post

I am just home after an intense week of discussions, brainstorming, writing, interviews and in , a German castle hosting weekly workshops on topics related to computer science. Ours was on .


Trick question: What do social media, business, dance, marketing, design, photography, life, film, hollywood, branding, journalism, speaking, travel, leadership, pr, folk, advertising, instagram, fundraising, country music, pitching, employer branding, and marketing your skills for a job have in common?

Well, they are all about storytelling, according to the first 5 pages of results for the .

Is any form of communication that is sufficiently interesting and engaging automatically a “story”? It’s a slippy word, defying definition like a wet piece of soap, and overly ripe with associations and assumptions.


So, as you can guess by now, I am , but I have to say the workshop gave me a new appreciation for the emerging practices of

  • weaving data presentations into traditional storytelling formats, and
  • bringing rhetorics, dramaturgy, suspense, … to data visualization.

I learned that much of data storytelling can actually be understood much better when thinking about formats like speeches, presentations, jokes, documentary film, rather than “tales” or “plots”.

Telling a story does not automatically imply a simplistic, author-driven, linear, primarily entertaining narration.

Image for post
Image for post
We were flipboarding the hell out of this story thing

Really interesting stuff can happen when we inject mechanisms from these other — persuasive or entertaining — forms of communication of information. Look at the beautiful use of repetition and rhetorical questions in this lovely :

Image for post
Image for post
Seriously,

In its widest form, storytelling is about establishing a flow of data perspectives. Defining and redefining data perspective can become a storytelling mechanism in itself, like in this .

Image for post
Image for post
25'000 bike rides made in one hour in Greater London ()
Image for post
Image for post
Scott McCloud’s brilliant eplanation of “framing”

Interesting things can also happen when user participation becomes part of the story told: If you need to , guess a or — putting the user right in the middle of the narrative can be a powerful mechanism:

Image for post
Image for post
You draw it!

Projects like take these ideas even further, and start to blend documentary movie, graphic novels with data visualization and multi-platform experiences, weaving an atmospheric net around a topic.

So, what did we discuss, and what is still open? Well, everything, basically.

The field is widely uncharted, and there is still a lot of room to explore, debate, categorize, understand, and improve.

Image for post
Image for post
Concepts, frameworks, revisions, debates. This is hard.

Our sub-group started to create a collection of narrative patterns: implementation independent mechanisms you can use to carry the story forward, raise curiosity, help people understand, and empathize. We are excited about this idea, as it could inspire people who know what story to tell, but not necessarily how to come up with fresh ideas on how to make their data presentations more interesting, memorable and emotional.

So — watch this space! :)


Thanks to for being what it is, and to the workshop organizers , , , and my workshop group consisting of , , , , , , , , and all . It was great bouncing ideas with you all.

Data Driven Storytelling

Dagstuhl 2016

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store