Book review – “Storytelling with Data”, by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

Hello! As you may have noticed from my Reading List page here, I like to read. Recently, with the new job, I was looking for a book that talked about Data Visualization. While searching, I came across “Storytelling with Data”, and it was not the first time I saw it. After checking a few reviews, I decided to invest my time reading it. Turns out it was a great decision! I liked it so much that I wanted to talk about it here, so here it comes, grab your reading glasses.

Who should read this book?

I believe this book is great for beginners to BI and Data Visualization. However, it does not require any fancy tools. In fact, the author claims to have used Excel in all the examples. In short, if you work with and have to present data to others, this will be a valuable reading.

What’s covered in this book?

In some of the main chapters, you’ll find information about how to pick the right design for the story you are trying to tell. Bellow is a very brief summary for some chapters covered.

The importance of context

Sometimes we get so into the analytics part of the visualization, the we can easily forget the context behind it. Which is why it’s good t think about who’s this data for, what they are planning to do with it and which questions are trying to be answered by this viz. If you don’t considered this, then you’re just plotting numbers on a report that people will not know what to do with.

Key points: engage with the audience, leave some prompts with call to actions that will guide them to where they should look to understand what is being presented.

Effective visuals

Sometimes, the shine things are not the best. As a BI dev, you may want t go crazy and try something that is rarely used, because it’s cool. However, when you do this, you let go of the main objective of your work: you’re not doing this for yourself. Somebody or some team requested this, and people are more at ease with things they already know how to operate. If they only use excel and visualize data with tables, they may not be interested in seeing a area or stacked bar, because that translates to extra brain effort.

Key points: avoid pizza and donuts charts always, because our eyes can misinterpret them. When possible, stick to familiar forms for the audience (bars, line graphs etc).

Eliminating clutter

This is a hard one for me. I find it one of the most difficult things to do, which is eliminate what is unnecessary. If you want to tell too much at once, you end up not telling anything at all. It’s a good practice to keep it short, keep it simple. Answer what is being asked, and remember you do not need to make the audience take the analyzing journey with you. That was your job! Their precious time will be used to see the final results. You can brag about the hard work you do in a meeting with your managers, for example (performance reviews exists for this!)

Key points: Only show what’s important for the context of the story, remove repetitive things and summarize when possible. Even considere plain big old numbers to highlight very specific topics instead of showing a whole graph for it (for example, when showing a product price range through time, instead of using a graph, just say “Product X had an increase of XX% in x years.”)

Focusing attention

When looking at a data visualization, it’s easy to get lost. If it’s too colourful, too bright, or dull, you may not know what is the key point being presented to you. As mentioned, the audience is not there to go through the analysis with you. That part should be done and you can call out to the audience’s attention by using:

  • color: you could tone everything down, for example by making use of gray tones, and use 1 single color that would pick someone’s attention because it stands out so much.
  • bold letters: bold letters are good because they don’t make your viz look clutter as underline may do, and are more perceptive than italic.
  • sizing: you can make things bigger to call attention, just make sure it’s an appropriate size.

Think like a designer

Wearing your design hats! She mentions in the book that people tend to think that beautiful is in fact perceived as more efficient. This may be a neglected point when you don’t have much time to put into the design, but taking this extra step shows respect for your audience and your data (awn!).

Key points: who doesn’t like pretty things???


Storytelling is what ties it all together. You could have done a great analysis, found awesome stuff about the data, presented it beautifully, but if you’re missing the context because you can’t put it into a “story”, and just like that, you may have lost the audience.

Heard of Death by Powerpoint? Yeah. Creating a narrative that guides the people to your findings, using their language, showing the steps, involving them and asking them to follow along with you is important.

Key points: she really got me thinking about the prompts we can make to the audience. Using questions is an awesome way of inviting people to think about what they are seeing. And when that is narrated by a story, it’s more compelling. It’s hard to follow numbers on a page, it’s easy to see a story develop itself in front of you.

Would I recommend this book?

It’s clear by now that I loved it. It feels like I took a shortcut to avoiding some headaches that would have come with experience in BI. With that being said, don’t go in thinking you’ll see technical stuff about how to actually create vizes, specially with a tool like Tableau or Power BI, there is nothing in there about this.

Other resources

Cole has a blog called (brace yourselves) Storytelling with Data! It’s full of resources and has more info about the workshops and material they have.

That was it for me. I’m excited to check books that were mentioned on this one, and if they’re interesting I may write a review for them too. See you soon!

Do you need SQL for a data related job?

Illustrations by Camila Henrique

I wanted to talk about this because I see a lot of doubts and lack of direction from people who are either beginning now in IT land or thinking about switching careers. The short answer to “do I need to know SQL for a data job?” , is yes. In the next few paragraphs I explain why I think so.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the fancy programming languages and methodologies for projects that sometimes the basics… are just not there. I believe having a good foundation opens paths to other doors that you could not see before. And I’m certain that SQL is one hell of a foundation to have in the data land.

Data jobs have been on a hype for the past few years. There’s a lot of speculating about what a data person job is (and actually it can vary a lot). However, there is one skill that seems to endlessly haunt job descriptions. Can you spot it below?

Taken from Linkedin, July 2021

Taken from Linkedin, July 2021

Taken from Linkedin, July 2021

SQL is always on high demand for any data job. Because it’s part of our basics. And knowing your basics can help you thrive. You can learn a lot of interesting stuff about data, but in the end, you’ll most likely need to get your hands on a database at some point, and SQL is how you talk to a database (and I think that’s beautiful. Stop judging me!).

I’m working on a series of posts dedicated to people who would like to learn SQL from zero. I’ll focus on the Microsoft product, MS SQL Server. They have a version of SQL just for it, it’s called T-SQL. I hope to share my knowledge with you and perhaps help someone along the way. This is my way of giving back to the community ūüôā

Any questions or suggestions, my comments are always there for you.

If you want to check out this same post in Portuguese, click here.

Voc√™ precisa de SQL para trabalhar na √°rea de dados?

Ilustra√ß√Ķes por Camila Henrique

Eu quis falar sobre isso pois eu vejo muitas d√ļvidas e uma falta de dire√ß√£o de pessoas que est√£o come√ßando em TI ou pensando em trocar de carreira. A resposta r√°pida para a pergunta ‚Äúeu preciso saber SQL para conseguir um trabalho na √°rea de dados?‚ÄĚ, √© sim, precisa. Nos pr√≥ximos par√°grafos eu te explico por que eu penso isso.

√Č f√°cil se perder no meio de tantas linguagens de programa√ß√£o e metodologias de projeto que √†s vezes o b√°sico fica pra tr√°s. Eu acredito que ter uma boa funda√ß√£o pode te abrir portas que antes voc√™ n√£o veria. Eu tenho certeza que SQL √© uma grande skill pra se ter na √°rea de dados.

Os data jobs est√£o em alta h√° alguns anos. Existe muita especula√ß√£o sobre o que uma pessoa da √°rea faz (e realmente, isso pode variar muito). Por√©m, existe uma habilidade que sempre aparece nas descri√ß√Ķes de vagas de trabalho. Voc√™ consegue encontr√°-la abaixo nos exemplos?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
Linkedin, Julho 2021

Linkedin, Julho 2021

Linkedin, Julho 2021

O SQL sempre está em demanda para muitas vagas. Porque faz parte dos básicos da área. Quando você domina os básicos, você tem grandes chances de prosperar. Você pode aprender coisas ótimas sobre a área de dados, mas no fim, em algum momento você vai precisar lidar com ele: um banco de dados. E adivinha: SQL é justamente como nos comunicamos com os bancos de dados, sua própria língua (eu acho isso lindo, pare de me julgar!).

Eu estou trabalhando em uma s√©rie de posts dedicados √† pessoas que gostariam de aprender SQL do zero. Meu foco ser√° o produto da Microsoft, o MS SQL Server. Eles tem uma ‚Äúvers√£o” de SQL s√≥ para esse banco de dados, √© o T-SQL. Eu espero compartilhar meu conhecimento com voc√™ e quem sabe eu n√£o ajude algu√©m no meio do caminho. Esse √© meu jeito de retribuir para a comunidade ūüôā

Perguntas ou sugest√Ķes, meus coment√°rios est√£o sempre abertos!

Se você quiser ler este mesmo post em inglês, leia aqui.