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 request an evaluation 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 an evaluation copy 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!

recommended reading: Info We Trust


Info We Trust: How to Inspire the World with Data is a beautiful book. It feels nice to hold. The colors are vibrant. The language is poetic. The content is inspiring.

If you work with or have an interest in data, you should own this book.

I read it from cover to cover in a two day sprint a few weeks ago in preparation for a conversation with author—and friend of mine—RJ Andrews. It’s the first book I’ve read so thoroughly in quite some time: pouring over not only the main content, but also the preface and end matter. Nearly every inch of this book is filled with information: margins are full of quotes from wide-ranging sources (RJ read hundreds of books over the course of development) and other relevant tidbits. The text and margins are interspersed with hand-drawn images (even the graphs are drawn by hand!) that help reinforce and illustrate concepts. Here’s an example 2-page spread:


The chapters are relatively short in length but dense in ideas and concepts, which provides good balance. The book is divided into six main sections: (1) Origin, (2) Metaphorical, (3) Mathemagical, (4) Sensational, (5) Informational, and (6) Onward. Also don’t miss the impressive and cleverly formatted bibliography and RJ’s essay on how the book came to be.

While I enjoyed it all, I especially appreciated the Mathemagical chapters: Create to Explore, Explore to Create, and Uncertain Honesty. I’m commonly asked questions about exploratory data analysis, and together these chapters pose a number of thought-provoking questions that can help direct those working with data through this process. I also really appreciated the Sensational chapters, which explore a number of other areas (e.g. Museum design), imploring the reader to draw their own parallels to data storytelling. Chapter 16 “Inspire Trust” was another standout section for me, with some great insightful discussion on people’s belief systems and the resulting difficulty of changing minds.

Info We Trust is definitely not a how-to book, and yet it is interlaced with practical advice. To give you a sense of language and style, here is one excerpt I highlighted, from Chapter 3, Embodied Encoding (pages 43-44):

There is a candy shop full of ways we get to communicate meaning visually. For example, the concept of importance is naturally associated with size. Big things are important. Why might this be? We start off small. When you are a child, big people like your parents are important. Bigger people, the ones who were already grown up, are much more powerful. Sometimes big adults are even scary. Even longer ago, big animals, you must remember, used to eat us.

Big things, whether parent or predator or palm tree, are also important because, to our eye, big things are closer. Ultimately, big things occupy a larger portion of our visual fields. There, big things vie for more of our attention. Important big things stretch, conceptually, into our language (e.g., “I wish you would stop focusing on small matters and see the giant issue we have”). Embodied metaphors transcend language because all people have similar embodied experiences. Big things are important in Zulu, Hawaiian, Turkish, Malay, and Russian. When we make pictures of important things, we do not have to abstract all the way to language metaphors. Just draw important things bigger on the page.

At one point, RJ discusses sparking curiosity in your audience. He says—and I’m paraphrasing—that good stories leave space for the audience to make connections. The book itself does this beautifully—not prescribing “do this” or “don’t do that,” but rather making observations and leaving the reader space to make connections and extrapolate to their own work.

I found myself experiencing both excitement and sadness as I neared the end: excitement, as I could tell it was building in a grand crescendo, sadness that it would soon be over. That sadness abated quickly, however, when I got the chance soon after ending my own experience with the book to talk with RJ about it. You can listen to our conversation:

There are a lot of fun and inspiring surprises throughout Info We Trust that I won’t spoil for you. Let me just end by saying that I highly recommend this book and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Thank you, RJ, for creating Info We Trust and for sharing it with us all!

InfoWeTrust RJ in Office.jpg