Sunday, November 6, 2011

Report: Telling Stories with Data – VisWeek 2011

A report from the narrative viz workshop at the recent viz conference. 

Telling Stories with Data – VisWeek 2011

Note from Nathan: Last week, visualization researchers from all over gathered in Providence, Rhode Island for VisWeek 2011. One of the workshops, Telling Stories with Data, focused on data as narrative and what that means for visualization. This is a guest post by the organizers: Nick Diakopoulos, Joan DiMicco, Jessica Hullman, Karrie Karahalios, and Adam Perer.

"Data storytelling" is all the rage on websites ranging from international news outlets, to political and economic organizations, to personal blogs. Indeed, this trend has captured the attention of those who research and work in information visualization. Scores of both aspiring and seasoned visual storytellers descended on the Telling Stories with Data workshop that we organized this year (the 2nd installment of the workshop) to discuss and learn about visualization storytelling tools, issues, and contexts. The workshop took place in Providence, Rhode Island on October 23rd and was part of the yearly international VisWeek conference which itself drew about 1,000 attendees.

As in many technological fields, those interested in "narrative visualization" face the challenge of connecting with like-minded others across the oft un-negotiated boundary between academic research and practical applications or designs. Yet these groups have much to learn from one another. To bring visualization research in contact with visualization practice, we structured the workshop line-up of speakers to include both academicians (e.g. from Harvard, UC Berkeley, UIUC) and people from industry (e.g. New York Times, Microsoft Research, OECD, Workbook Project). The talks were organized into three blocks: (1) tools for structuring and sharing, (2) communicating with visualization, and (3) storytelling in context.

In the rest of this post we'll share some highlights and take-aways from the talks and discussions that took place throughout the workshop. And for a fuller experience don't miss the set of provocative questions [pdf] we used to instigate discussions after each session.

The workshop got started with a few talks that dove right into talking about the state of the art in visualization tools that support data storytelling. First to speak in the tools session was