Edward Segel and Jeffrey Heer did research to narrative data visualization and published a document with the tittle “Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data”. It resulted in a very interesting overview of the background of story telling via data and then in comparison with traditional story telling. Edward and Jeffrey created a usefull classification of data-visualization, as a base when you would like to create your own data visuals. Below a summary of the publication:

Data stories differ in important ways from traditional storytelling. Stories in text and film typically present a set of events in a tightly controlled progression. While tours through visualized data similarly can be organized in a linear sequence, they can also be interactive, inviting verification, new questions, and alternative explanations.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines narrative as “an account of a series of events, facts, etc., given in order and with the establishing of connections between them.” Central to this definition is the notion of a chain of causally related events. Stories of this form often have a beginning, middle, and end [3, 24]: an introduction to the situation, a series of events often involving tension or conflict, and a resolution

Since ancient times, people have tried to understand and formalize the elements of storytelling. For example, writers have developed typologies of dramatic situations and identified plot lines common to many narratives, such as the “hero’s journey”. This research typically distinguishes between the content of the story and the form in which it is told. While stories often concern interacting characters, they may also present a sequence of facts and observations linked together by a unifying theme or argument. Storytelling strategies vary among media and genre. For instance, stories told through writing have access to a different set of formal mechanisms and narrative structures (e.g., stream of consciousness) than stories told through film (e.g., split-screen sequences). Blundell [W. E. Blundell. The Art & Craft of Feature Writing. Plume, 1988] describes narrative devices for journalism such as the anecdotal lead—an initial story, often involving dialogue and characters, that presents a microcosm of the larger news story—and the nut graf—a paragraph explicitly describing the news value of an article. These devices are largely unique to journalism, as opposed to literary fiction or film. Visualizations themselves may incorporate a variety of media, including text, images and video, and can also be interactive, enabling stories whose telling relies as much on the reader as on the author.


Eric and Jeffrey classified narrative data visualization in Genre, Visual narrative and Narrative structure. Visual narrative is divided by Highlighting and Transition Guidance. Narrative structure by Narrative structure, Interactivity and Messaging. Below an overview:

Genre narrative data visualization:

  • Magazine Style
  • Annotated Graph / Map
  • Partitioned Poster
  • Flow Chart
  • Comic Strip
  • Slide Show
  • Film / Video / Animation

Visual narrative > Visual structuring:
Visual structuring refers to mechanisms that communicate the overall structure of the narrative to the viewer and allow him to identify his position within the larger organization of the visualization. These design strategies help orient the viewer early on (establishing shot, checklist, consistent visual platform) and allow the viewer to track his progress through the visualization (progress bar, timeline slider).

  • Establishing Shot / Splash Screen
  • Consistent Visual Platform
  • Progress Bar / Timebar
  • “Checklist” Progresss Tracker

Visual narrative > Highlighting:
Highlighting refers to visual mechanisms that help direct the viewer’s attention to particular elements in the display. This can be achieved through the use of color, motion, framing, size, audio, and more, which augment the salience of an element relative to its surroundings. Many of these strategies are also used in film, art, and comics.

  • Close-Ups
  • Feature Distinction
  • Character Direction
  • Motion
  • Audio
  • Zooming

Visual narrative > Transition Guidance:
Transition guidance concerns techniques for moving within or between visual scenes without disorienting the viewer. A common technique from film is continuity editing, though other strategies (e.g., animated transitions, object continuity, camera motion) also exist.

  • Familiar Objects (but still cuts)
  • Viewing Angle
  • Viewer (Camera) Motion
  • Continuity Editing
  • Object Continuity
  • Animated Transitions

Narrative Structure > Ordering
Ordering refers to the ways of arranging the path viewers take through the visualization. Sometimes this path is prescribed by the author (linear), sometimes there is no path suggested at all (random access), and other times the user must select a path among multiple alternatives (user-directed).

  • Random Access
  • User Directed Path
  • Linear
  • Hover Highlighting / Details

Narrative Structure > Interactivity
Interactivity refers to the different ways a user can manipulate the visualization (filtering, selecting, searching, navigating), and also how the user learns those methods (explicit instruction, tacit tutorial, initial configuration).

  • Filtering / Selection / Search
  • Navigation Buttons
  • Very Limited Interactivity
  • Explicit Instruction
  • Tacit Tutorial
  • Stimulating Default Views

Narrative Structure > Messaging
Messaging refers to the ways a visualization communicates observations and commentary to the viewer. This might be achieved through short text fields (labels, captions, headlines, annotations) or more substantial descriptions (articles, introductions, summaries).

  • Captions / Headlines
  • Annotations
  • Accompanying Article
  • Multi-Messaging
  • Comment Repitition
  • Introductory Text
  • Summary / Synthesis

The third division identifies narrative structure tactics used by each visualization, or non-visual mechanisms that assist and facilitate the narrative:

Design Space Observations
Three important patterns stand out from the data:

  •  The first pattern is how visualizations guide the viewer through their content.
  • The second pattern is the consistency in interaction design choices made by visualizations.
  • The third pattern is the under-utilization of common narrative messaging techniques such as repetition of key points, introductory texts, and final summaries and syntheses.

Balancing Author-Driven and Reader-Driven Stories
The visual narrative genres, together with interaction and messaging, must balance a narrative intended by the author with story discovery on the part of the reader. We thus place narrative visualizations along a spectrum of author-driven and reader-driven approaches (see below).

Properties of Author-Driven and Reader-Driven Stories. Most visualizations lie along a spectrum between these two extremes.

Author-Driven Reader-Driven:

  • Linear ordering of scenes
  • Heavy messaging
  • No interactivity


  • No prescribed ordering
  • No messaging
  • Free interactivity

A purely author-driven approach has a strict linear path through the visualization, relies heavily on messaging, and includes no interactivity. Examples include film and non-interactive slideshows. A strongly author-driven approach works best when the goal is storytelling or efficient communication. We see this approach used in comics, art, cinema, commercials, business presentations, educational videos, and training materials.

A purely reader-driven approach has no prescribed ordering of images, no messaging, and a high degree of interactivity. Examples include visual analysis tools like Tableau or Spotfire. A reader-driven approach supports tasks such as data diagnostics, pattern discovery, and hypothesis formation.

Historically, many visualizations fall into the author-driven or reader-driven dichotomy. However, as we have seen throughout our case studies, most examples of narrative visualization fall somewhere in-between, and an important attribute of narrative visualization is its flexibility in balancing both elements. Visualizations are increasingly striking a balance between the two approaches, providing room for limited interactivity within the context of a more structured narrative. This is a relatively recent development, with most mainstream examples
coming from online journalism. All the interactive examples in our dataset use a mix of the authordriven and reader-driven approaches. Despite the range of possible combinations, a few hybrid models have become most common. Below we discuss three common schemas. The first structure prioritizes the author-driven approach, the second structure promotes a dialogue between the two approaches, while the third structure prioritizes the reader-driven approach.

Martini Glass Structure
The Martini Glass visualization structure begins with an author-driven approach, initially using questions, observations, or written articles to introduce the visualization. Occasionally no text is used at all, as the visualization instead relies on an interesting default view or annotations. Once the author’s intended narrative is complete, the visualization opens up to a reader driven stage where the user is free to interactively explore the data. The structure resembles a martini glass, with the stem representing the single-path author-driven narrative and the widening mouth of the glass representing the available paths made possible through reader-driven interactivity.

Interactive Slideshow
The Interactive Slideshow structure follows a typical slideshow format, but incorporates interaction mid-narrative within the confines of each slide. This structure allows the user to further explore particular points of the presentation before moving ahead to the next stage of the story.

Drill-Down Story
The Drill-Down Story visualization structure presents a general theme and then allows the user to choose among particular instances of that theme to reveal additional details and backstories.

In the article is an overview of examples within the described classification. Below some examples:

The Crisis of Credit Visualized, Jonathan Jarvis Jonathan Jarvis

Virgin America Airplane Safety Video, Virgin America

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