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Sketch me if you can – the power of sketching when talking about data

A picture is worth more than a thousand words.

We have probably all heard this statement for too many times. Yet, it’s worth repeating it once again when it comes to data. Data practitioners emphasize that “In data science communication, this quote is literally, figuratively, verbally true.“ [1] Why? If you ever tried to make your analytical pitch solely using technical jargon and long-winding sentences, you probably know the answer already. Data is incredibly hard to converse on and trying to make somebody relate to it through prosaic monologue spreads nothing but boredom and fatigue among those you try to excite for your idea, argument or project. In situations where words alone just don’t cut it, we have to go back to the drawing board.

The charms of pen and paper

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unplash

Sketching and drawing come at many advantages. In jotting down our ideas on paper, we disclose the kind of mental imagery and shorthands stored in our heads to the people that might otherwise have a hard time following our train of thought. Sharing a visual representation of what you might want to achieve with your data, how you plan to train your model or present your insights leads to more productive conversations and ideation when discussing such topics within groups of people.

More often than never, data-driven projects necessitate input, feedback or buy-in from many different stakeholders. Your colleagues will have very different touchpoints with the data you look at and very different skills in stock than you bring to the table.

It does not come by surprise that research qualifies sketching as mission-critical ritual for working in interdisciplinary teams [2] Why? Physical representations enable us to make out characteristics and relationships between entities more easily and enable lightweight visual conversations with others about data that addresses your context and goals.The motivation behind sketching is not to craft a picture-perfect piece of art but to put your thoughts into a format that is cognitively accessible to others as well as to provide a launching pad for your team and you to develop your idea further together. All it takes is a sloppy drawing to create leveled playfield for everyone to engage and relate to irrespective of technical knowhow.

The dangers of getting fancy and “professional” to early

Gaining access to the data you want can be a draining experience. Returning from such organizational battles, it is extremely tempting to push your data straight up into tools like Qlik, Tableau or PowerBI and succumb to the charms of creating aesthetically pleasing visualizations. Virtually no one will pad us on the back for having data sitting on our machine but for the analytical dashboard we create on top of it. However, virtually everyone will be pointing the finger at us if the data our stakeholders care about is ill-understood and visualized in an unthoughtful manner.

The truth is: Playing with fancy tools upfront can divert attention from the actual data, allowing basic errors to go unnoticed. Data visualization tools can easily tempt users into creating colorful, eye-catching charts and plots that eventually backfire rather than telling a compelling story that sticks. In addition, many of these tools have presets that limit our imagination if they get into the process too early. Let us be clear: Software for creating data visualizations certainly have their place in the process, but they don't allow for the kind of free-form exploration you get when you just sit down and sketch

Flexing your creative muscles with the detective platform

Users of the detective platform experience the beauty of working with pen and paper on a free form digital whiteboard with big data access. Whether you are meeting up for brainstorming session at the start of a project, huddle together to work on a complex idea, refine an existing concept or simply gather to prepare a data story to those you need to excite for your plan, convenient access to a wide array of pens, shapes and colors equips you with all you need to get going.

With fine-granular controls over stroke style & width, opacity, shape fill, size & form, grouping and layering, features the detective platform blend pen and paper artistry with the possibilities of digital.

Workshop facilitating functionality like timer, voting, presentation flows and exports ensure that creative outpourings are acted upon.

Most importantly, users have the unique possibility to bridge between drawings and actual data any time, without leaving the canvas. Whether you want to see if the concept you came up with reconciles with the data you have or whether you prefer to first take a glimpse at your data before drawing up the bigger picture, your organization’s data is always only a click away. Once you pulled your data on canvas, you can draw next to it or – if your story hides between the rows and columns of your dataset - right on top of it.

Talking about data was difficult enough for too long. In making data accessible for the tools we manage to be our best at work, the detective platform ensures that human creativity remains limitless, even when working with data.


[1] T.,B. (2021) - Excalidraw: How to Bring Complex Data Science Ideas to Life in Sketches -

[2] Williams, D. (2021) - How and Why We Sketch When Visualizing Data -

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