Photos and illustrations in a visual narrative

When creating a compelling data storytelling visual narrative, it’s important to carefully choose the photos and illustrations to enhance the story you’re telling. Here are some best practices and common pitfalls to avoid when selecting images for your data story:

1) Relevance: The extent to which an image is directly connected to the content and context of the data narrative. An image should align with the topic being discussed and support the message or insights conveyed. It should enhance the understanding and engagement of the audience by providing visual representation that is pertinent to the data story.

Best practice: Choose images that are directly related to the data story you’re telling. For instance, if your data story is about climate change, use images of natural disasters or affected wildlife to reinforce your message.

Pitfall: Avoid using unrelated or only tangentially related images, as this may confuse or distract your audience.

2) Tone: The emotional or aesthetic quality of an image and its impact on the overall tone of the data narrative. The choice of images can evoke different emotions and set the mood or atmosphere of the narrative. The tone of the images should align with the desired emotional impact and convey the intended message or sentiment effectively.

Best practice: Match the tone of your images to the overall tone of your data story. If your data story is about a serious issue, use images with a more somber tone. Conversely, if your story is more lighthearted, choose images with a more upbeat or humorous tone.

Pitfall: Avoid using images with a tone that clashes with your story, as this may create a disjointed experience for your audience.

3) Emotional Impact: The ability of an image to evoke specific emotions or feelings in the audience. Images can elicit empathy, curiosity, inspiration, or other emotional responses, which can enhance the audience’s connection to the data story. The emotional impact of images should be considered to create a more engaging and memorable narrative experience.

Best practice: Use images that evoke an emotional response from your audience. For example, in a data story about poverty, an image of a struggling family can make a more significant impact than a simple statistic.

Pitfall: Be careful not to overuse emotionally charged images or rely solely on their impact. This can lead to desensitization or manipulation, which may undermine your credibility.

4) Clarity: The visual quality and clear representation of images within the data narrative. Images should be visually clear, well-composed, and easy to interpret. Clarity ensures that the intended message or information in the image is conveyed effectively and that the audience can readily understand its content and relevance to the data narrative.

Best practice: Choose images that are easy to understand and interpret. For instance, an infographic about the global distribution of carbon emissions should be visually clear and easy to read.

Pitfall: Avoid using complex or cluttered images, as these may confuse your audience and detract from your story.

5) Quality: The technical aspects of the images used in the data narrative. Images should be of high resolution, properly formatted, and visually appealing. High-quality images contribute to a professional and polished presentation, enhancing the overall visual impact and credibility of the data narrative.

Best practice: Use high-quality images that are properly sized and formatted for your presentation. Grainy or pixelated images can detract from the professionalism of your narrative.

Pitfall: Avoid using low-quality images or illustrations, as they may compromise the overall quality of your visual narrative.

6) Attribution: The practice of providing proper credit and acknowledgment to the sources of the images used in the data narrative. It is important to respect copyright and intellectual property rights by obtaining appropriate permissions and giving credit to the original creators or sources of the images. Proper attribution ensures ethical and legal use of images while maintaining transparency and integrity in the data storytelling process.

Best practice: Properly credit the source of your images and illustrations, both to adhere to copyright laws and to maintain credibility.

Pitfall: Avoid using images without proper attribution, as this may lead to legal issues or undermine your credibility.


Examples of effective data storytelling visuals include: 

  • A compelling photo of a drought-stricken landscape in a data story about water scarcity. 
  • An infographic showing the correlation between income inequality and health outcomes, using clear icons to represent various income levels and health indicators.

By following these best practices and avoiding common pitfalls, you can create a data storytelling visual narrative that effectively communicates your message and resonates with your audience.