why didn't I learn this stuff in school?


At SWD, we have the good fortune to teach many people in their business setting. These are typically individuals already in their careers who are interested developing their skills.

Why didn’t I learn this stuff in school? This is a question we hear frequently and that’s occurred to me more than once over the years in relation to visualizing and communicating with data. Well, it didn’t use to exist. The good news is, that is changing: more and more universities are incorporating the development of data visualization skills and communicating with data into their curricula.

At SWD, we celebrate innovative educators—and the universities and institutions where they teach—who share our mission of creating better data storytellers. We happily guest lecture when possible, but the way we’ve reached many more students is through the book. More than 100 universities around the world have used storytelling with data as part of their curricula. Instructors laud it for the straightforward approach and practical business-based examples, plus it costs a fraction of the typical textbook.


“I teach data-driven storytelling and communication to undergraduate, Ph.D. students, MBAs, and executives. Across all of these, storytelling with data is my core textbook and in every class, students want more from Cole—particularly in the form of hands-on remakes. I'm thrilled that I can now add Let's Practice! to my courses. Packed with examples and practical strategies, this is a must-have resource for anyone who needs to convey data, or to teach this critical professional skill to others.

Steven Franconeri, Professor of Psychology, Director of the Cognitive Science Program and the Visual Thinking Lab at Northwestern University

Professor Franconeri was an early reviewer of my forthcoming book, storytelling with data: Let’s Practice!—which I am incredibly excited to now introduce broadly to university instructors. Read on to learn more about what you can expect and how to get your hands on some preview content.

Here are a few specific resources from Let’s Practice! that will be useful for those teaching:

The solved practice with Cole exercises can be assigned as reading and illustrate many more real scenarios, challenges, and examples (inspired by those encountered in our workshops) to aid in the understanding and application of storytelling with data lessons.

The unsolved practice on your own sections provide a plethora of exercises that can be used directly, mixed-and-matched, or modeled after for assignments, tests, and projects. All data and graphs are downloadable.

The discussion questions that conclude each chapter will also be useful to draw from for group or class conversations on topics related to applying storytelling with data lessons. For example, check out the let’s discuss exercise from Chapter 2 on choosing an effective visual (see more example content in our recent post).

Chapter 2: let’s discuss!  | Knaflic, Cole.  Storytelling With Data: Let’s Practice!  Wiley, © 2019.

Chapter 2: let’s discuss! | Knaflic, Cole. Storytelling With Data: Let’s Practice! Wiley, © 2019.

In the past week, we have reached out to a number of the universities that use storytelling with data to share sample content from the new book, Let’s Practice! If you are an educator who is interested in receiving a sneak peek of storytelling with data: Let's Practice!, complete this short form and we'll send you the materials right away. You can also contact your Wiley account rep to coordinate a full complimentary copy of the books to assess for use as a textbook in your courses (storytelling with data is available now via this link and Let’s Practice! will be published in October and can be requested here).

We also frequently hear from students who were introduced to storytelling with data through their professor. If you’re a student who wants to make sure your instructor has early access to Let’s Practice!, complete this form to let us know who they are and we will let them know about this new offering.


"YES! Something more from Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic. I've been teaching with her first book, storytelling with data, heavily for the past three years and the new Let's Practice! is the ideal companion to use with my students and clients. Her ability to simplify the complex without 'dumbing down' the message is second to none. I am so glad this book is now available."

JD Schramm, Lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business and author of forthcoming Communicate with Mastery: speak with conviction and write for impact

We always enjoy hearing from instructors on how they are using storytelling with data lessons and what we can do to help support. If you have ideas to share, please email us.

let's practice!


I am incredibly excited to announce the upcoming publication of storytelling with data: Let’s Practice! It’s possible you’ve heard about it, as I’ve posted sporadically on social media and recently started discussing it during podcasts and events. I’ve been living and breathing the process of creating and refining it for so long that it was surprising to realize that here—on the blog—I’ve actually not yet written about this project!

So here’s where I change that and give you the inside scoop: who it’s for, what to expect, and some sneak peeks inside.

Like my first book, Let’s Practice! is written for anyone who needs to communicate data. If you’re reading these words now, this likely includes you. I am a strong believer that there are no “experts” in this space: we can all become increasingly nuanced in how we visualize data and weave it into stories to help someone understand something in a new way and drive action. The key to doing so is to practice, iterate, get feedback, iterate some more, and learn from each process. That’s where this book comes in.

Or, well, “not a book,” as we’ve been referring to it in official places. Because it’s really not just a book. Used right, it can foster an immersive learning experience through which you can become—or teach others to be—a powerful data storyteller. The first six chapters are aligned with the core lessons from the original book: (1) understand the context, (2) choose an effective visual, (3) identify and eliminate clutter, (4) draw attention, (5) think like a designer, and (6) tell a story. Each chapter contains three sections of exercises:

  • practice with Cole: exercises based on real-world examples posed for you to consider and solve, accompanied by detailed step-by-step illustration and explanation

  • practice on your own: more exercises and thought-provoking questions for you to work through individually without prescribed solutions

  • practice at work: thoughtful guidance and hands-on exercises for applying the lessons learned on the job, including practical instruction on when and how to solicit useful feedback and iterate to refine your work from acceptable to exceptional

These first six are followed by comprehensive chapters that pull everything together. Chapter 7 (“practice more with Cole”) contains full blown case studies that are posed and then solved to illustrate the holistic storytelling with data process. Chapter 8 (“practice more on your own”) contains similar but unsolved case studies (great for those teaching data storytelling to use directly or model after; more on this in an upcoming post). Chapter 9 (“practice more at work”) has guidance for applying the totality of lessons to projects faced on the job, plus facilitator guides, assessment rubrics, and more. Chapter 10 wraps everything up with some closing thoughts.

Each chapter begins with a short introduction of the topic, followed by a recap of the respective lesson from the first book. If you’ve read the first book, this recap will serve as a good reminder of the main topics. If you haven’t read the first book, there’s enough in the recap and exercises to fuel you. Catherine Madden worked magic, illustrating these recaps (among other elements throughout the book) in fantastic two-page spreads. Here’s an example from Chapter 5:

Chapter 5 SWD recap  | Knaflic, Cole.  Storytelling With Data: Let’s Practice!  Wiley, © 2019.

Chapter 5 SWD recap | Knaflic, Cole. Storytelling With Data: Let’s Practice! Wiley, © 2019.

Each chapter recap is followed by a sticky note summary of the exercises in the given chapter. For instance, here’s the outline for Chapter 2, which focuses on choosing an effective visual (plus a peek at Exercise 2.1!):

Chapter 2 outline  | Knaflic, Cole.  Storytelling With Data: Let’s Practice!  Wiley, © 2019.

Chapter 2 outline | Knaflic, Cole. Storytelling With Data: Let’s Practice! Wiley, © 2019.

Much of the content was inspired by our storytelling with data workshops. One way this plays out is in the scenarios themselves. Because our workshops span many industries, so do the examples upon which I draw. Exercises navigate between different topics—from digital marketing to pet adoption to sales training—giving those reading and practicing a rich and varied set of situations to learn from while honing data storytelling skills. Another way this manifests is in the exercises themselves: they center around common questions raised and challenges faced that people communicate during or after a workshop.

For example, we sometimes get questions about using words together with graphs. Over time, I’ve encountered a ton of examples where this is not executed as well as it could be. Here’s the beginning of the solution to an exercise formulated to help individuals reflect on the many ways text and data can be visually connected:

Example partial solution  | Knaflic, Cole.  Storytelling With Data: Let’s Practice!  Wiley, © 2019.

Example partial solution | Knaflic, Cole. Storytelling With Data: Let’s Practice! Wiley, © 2019.

All of the data and graphs will be available for download. This means those practicing will have easy access to data to work with in the tool of their choice (the lessons themselves are tool-agnostic). Additionally, downloadable solutions (which will be provided in a number of tools) will be available for all practice with Cole exercises so those interested can both see what’s possible and the details of how they were created.

In total, Let’s Practice! contains more than 100 hands-on exercises and over 250 data visualizations. As you can imagine, putting words and graphs (and illustrations!) together on that scale was no small endeavor. Have you noticed how beautiful the 2-page spreads are above? Matt at Flight Design Co did tremendous work in this area, laying out the actual book (and being patient through multiple iterations in our collective attempt to make it perfect).

Numerous others helped behind the scenes, reviewing drafts, editing, providing feedback, and helping in all sorts of ways that we tend to overlook when we hold a book in our hands. I won’t overlook it with this project; I am extremely grateful to everyone who contributed. And I’m very excited to soon share it with you. There is a ton of value to be obtained by analytical work that is already being done that simply isn’t being communicated as effectively as it could be—I hope this book is another step towards changing that.

You’ll be seeing additional posts from us on topics related to the book in the coming weeks leading up to official October publication, so please stay tuned. I’d love for you to preorder your copy today (Amazon, B&N, BAM!, Porchlight, Wiley, or even better: place an order at your favorite local bookstore) and spread the word to others who will benefit from effective data storytelling!

forty-five pie charts? never say never

Here at storytelling with data, we have been known to say things like, “The only thing worse than a pie chart…is two pie charts.” And yet, believe it or not, we’ve found a data visualization that we think succeeds in using not one, not two, but forty-five pie charts. How could this possibly be?

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#SWDchallenge: redesigning for mobile

Most of us are lucky to have large screens or multiple monitors to design on. The temptation to pack loads of information into a display is difficult to resist. But resist we must: mobile is mandatory. As such, your challenge this month, from guest contributor Andy Cotgreave, is to find a chart or dashboard you originally designed to be consumed on a monitor, and redesign it for mobile.

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