Storytelling with Data, by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

Some years back, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic had a job on the Google People Analytics team. She had a particular knack for data visualization – a talent for using just the right bar graph or scatterplot to convey exactly the right ideas. She built her own course and traveled Google’s global offices training staff around the world, until finally in 2010, she broke away from the mothership to start her own highly-successful consultancy. It’s a story that warms my own heart.

In 2015, Nussbaumer Knaflic wrote an essential book: Storytelling with Data – A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals, which provides a well-organized compilation of techniques, insights, and accumulated designer wisdom to help almost anyone improve their presentation chops.

Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

This book should be compulsory for everyone who believes that the only design inspiration they need can be found in Microsoft PowerPoint templates (in other words, approximately 85 percent of everyone who gives business presentations).

The book is written well enough to be a palatable cover-to-cover read, but its greater value may be as a resource reference. It contains scores of terrific visuals that demonstrate the difference between effective and horrid approaches to a broad set of data communications challenges. For data geeks and business communicators, it’s fun to simply jump through the pages.

Much of Nussbaumer Knaflic’s guidance may feel like common sense to people with more than moderately developed right brains (“Clutter is your enemy!”). But her core lessons – such as focusing on the key insight, to the exclusion of all other visual noise – is welcome relief to anyone who has suffered through one too many executive status updates. And in my book, she’s a hero simply just for proclaiming that “Pie charts are pure evil!”

There’s not much here that Edward Tufte or Hans Rosling didn’t pioneer earlier, but Nussbaumer Knaflic’s great contribution is that she contextualizes that wisdom in the language of the modern business world. One could question the use of “Storytelling” in the title when “Presentation” might be more apt (he concept of “storytelling” is given just a remedial beginning/middle/end treatment, and only near the end of the book). But these are quibbles. This book is a gem.

Anything that promises to free people from the impenetrable eye charts that dominate the modern corporate landscape, as this book does, is worth its weight in gold. 

 Order Storytelling With Data on Amazon

Publisher: Wiley, November 2, 2015, 1st edition

Price and format: $39.95 paperback

ISBN: 978-1119002253