How to: StoryMap

In this column I have often presented projects of the “Knight Lab” (for example here and here and here). The “Northwestern University” in Chicago and San Francisco developed in the context of this lab again and again tools that amaze me. Because they are the way digital storytelling should be: easy to use, diverse in possibilities.

StoryMap, the tool we want to do today, largely meets these criteria as well. However, today’s episode can not work without a little warning: At least in one place, StoryMap is a little bit more complex than the other KnightLab stuff. That should not irritate you though. Because, firstly, it’s still usable, and second, because this one job is just an option, not a must.

What is StoryMap anyway – and what do you need it for?

Anyone who does something with a media-making person knows that: There are such complex topics that it’s hard to tell them. Summing it up, keeping it alive and describing it in a way that meets the needs of the multimedia age, is a challenge in such cases. For a first introduction or to explain the basic idea behind StoryMaps a project with maps is still best.


Exactly for such cases is meant StoryMap. Do not be confused by the name: portraying something in the form of cards is an option there, but not a must. For a first introduction or explanation of the basic idea behind StoryMap, a project with maps is best.

So the idea is to create a project (attention, as always with KnightLab: Google account required). Then you get an overview that looks like this:

Howto Storymap 1

Here you can title the project, select various settings and add so-called slides. Before adding such a slide, you will be asked where it should (geographically) happen. In this case, I opted for a very simple text entry. And I added a YouTube video as well. Both are quite simple and then give the following result after a short time:

Howto Storymap 2

For the user, the page will look like this later:

Howto Storymap 3

The “medium” on the page could just as well have been a photo or something similar; StoryMap offers a number of good options here. Not only can you use your own media, but you can also embed or link from various external sources (Wikipedia, Twitter, Vimeo). And then? Was that in principle already?

Basically StoryMap is similar to Powerpoint. This means that you create another slide for each new station of this “map” and then design it as described above.
Two things you should still consider with all simplicity: The human loves variety, whether at Powerpoint, StoryMap or other things. The different slides should not always be designed according to the same pattern. After the tool has a lot of possibilities, that should not be a problem.

Keep the whole story simple and straightforward! As much as the user likes variety, so sure you will lose him if you overwhelm him with information. Ideally, the user immediately understands what it’s all about – and what you want to tell him.

Some examples

An interesting link between data and videos that you would not think of at first glance: the most expensive football stars in history (though this is already from 2016, so there are a few names missing). And for those who like it a bit more complex: The entire plot of “Game of Thrones” also exists as a StoryMap. This project also works with the high-resolution and therefore somewhat more complex background images to be produced. The creation and use of such “gigapixels” is clearly explained here.

Jakubetz recommends

As always with the Knightlab projects: With comparatively little effort one gets to very respectable results. I would put in any case in the production bookmarks.

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