Data Storytelling Examples – Social Issues

How to learn data storytelling? Practise with LabMP data visualization!

I took under loop #IronViz2020 through the prism of data storytelling. In this series, you learn my philosophy of data storytelling on my terms. I tell you what data viz authors do right because the secret of success is following the masters!

I review my favourite data stories. This means I pick topics I’m in personally and professionally. 

How to do data storytelling?

  1. Go to the data visualization
  2. Identify story features in the data viz (character – context – conflict)
  3. Keep reading my tips! 👇

Data story: Drug overdose deaths in the US

 Very well thought data story! It’s unprecedently one of my favourites. Yanning Wang tells a story of results that is a typical story type for reports.

Data Story Hero

The character of the story is a number of drug overdose deaths. The figures include only US territory. You learn about the hero essential facts such as death occurrence by age, sex, ethnicity, drug type and region. What’s great, a sparkline visualizes the hero shape. At the beginning of the story, you see the trend of drug overdose deaths over the years. The sparkline highlights the most relevant data from 2019 and 2018.

Along with the story, you see various forms of the hero.

Data Context

Context is A world view. As an introduction, Yanning Wang explains drug overdoses explicitly as an executive summary.

I give extra points for the unconventional way of putting a sparkline next to the introduction. The sparkline indicates the story hero -number of deaths. It provides a context of how rapidly the drug overdose problem accelerates in the US. The colour coding for black (deaths in 2018) and grey dot (deaths in 2019) is a brilliant step.


Drama! Firstly you learn more about a drastic picture of the demographics (who, what age, ethnicity do overdose drugs). The sparkline shows up again to tell you about the trends of deaths overtime by each state.

Data Storytelling Structure

Data narrative leads to the main message. Titles include questions to engage you in data exploration. This is a great strategy to trigger action-inspiring momentum. Yanning puts excellent annotations about the deaths from different drugs across states. Same with the great highlights of the trends and peaks.

Last but not least, she provides very detailed and explanatory Source comments. It gives trust to the data, as Yanning redirects to data sources and explains data classification.

Design and navigation in data storytelling

Yanning Wang data story is very detailed, well-designed and thoughtful. 

Data story colour palette 

The colours are well-balanced and keep a good contrast. They are context-rich. I find earthy colours a great way to convey the message about death.


The spacing divides chapters of the data story naturally.

Axis customization

Changing the axis gives you the freedom to compare the data your way.


Fonts are readable and keep the typographic hierarchy.

Data storytelling enhancements

What could be improved?

Have empathy for your audience

Grey misleads me once or twice!

By default, my mind looked for connotation between grey and dark in the rest of the data story. The use of the same colour in the sparkline and other dashboard parts is a bit misleading.

I thought that the grey background in the dot plot and bar charts depict data from 2019. It shows overdose dates in 2018 as you read the description further.

My recommendation is to have empathy for the audience. For instance, I work most of the time from the computer, consuming lots of data and information every day. I’d love to see information shortcuts in data visualization for my poor brain. Very often, I skim text going directly to the data viz. It’s wrong, but supposedly many of you do the same when you are tired. So, audience, it’s also a call to you! Read the introduction to the viz CAREFULLY to skip all misunderstandings.

Call to Action in data storytelling

You have a mission to present a challenging situation. Hook the audience in the end with a call to action.

I don’t blame this data story for missing CTA because this work is one of the best I’ve seen recently. However, I feel rather poorly informed. When I see the problem is rising year over year, I think many people can be familiar with the social issue. That’s why it would be great to add contact info to the helpline as a striking CTA. This dashboard is so action-inspiring that it just screams, “come on, do something with this issue! Rescue your relatives!”.

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