From Visual Exploration to Storytelling and Back Again

CLUE screenshot


The primary goal of visual data exploration tools is to enable the discovery of new insights. To justify and reproduce insights, the discovery process needs to be documented and communicated. A common approach to documenting and presenting findings is to capture visualizations as images or videos. Images, however, are insufficient for telling the story of a visual discovery, as they lack full provenance information and context. Videos are difficult to produce and edit, particularly due to the non-linear nature of the exploratory process. Most importantly, however, neither approach provides the opportunity to return to any point in the exploration in order to review the state of the visualization in detail or to conduct additional analyses. In this paper we present CLUE (Capture, Label, Understand, Explain), a model that tightly integrates data exploration and presentation of discoveries. Based on provenance data captured during the exploration process, users can extract key steps, add annotations, and author 'Vistories', visual stories based on the history of the exploration. These Vistories can be shared for others to view, but also to retrace and extend the original analysis. We discuss how the CLUE approach can be integrated into visualization tools and provide a prototype implementation. Finally, we demonstrate the general applicability of the model in two usage scenarios: a Gapminder-inspired visualization to explore public health data and an example from molecular biology that illustrates how Vistories could be used in scientific journals.



  title = {From Visual Exploration to Storytelling and Back Again},
  author = {Samuel Gratzl and Alexander Lex and Nils Gehlenborg and Nicola Cosgrove and Marc Streit},
  journal = {Computer Graphics Forum (EuroVis)},
  doi = {10.1111/cgf.12925},
  url = {},
  volume = {35},
  number = {3},
  pages = {491--500},
  month = {jun},
  year = {2016}


GapMinder usage scenario


Comparing Wealth vs. Life Excepectancy over time, illustrating the basic concepts of Vistories.

StratomeX usage scenario


Reproducing previously published Use Cases of the StratomeX visualization technique, highlighting reproducibility and storytelling aspects of Vistories.


This work was supported in part by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF P27975-NBL), the State of Upper Austria (FFG 851460), and the US National Institutes of Health (U01 CA198935).