How recessions impact unemployment

Your audience needs to be told what to take from your visualizations. As the author, your job is to clearly communicate insights about the data, without distortion. In this example, I show how a reader’s understanding of unemployment rate changes can be increased by using correlated data points and helpfun interactions.

Before going much farther take a quick look at the interactive version of this visualization then come back to read on, it’s ok, I’ll wait.

Unemployment rate trend with the start of recessions marked.

Unemployment rate trend with the start of recessions marked.

Looking at the interactive version, you’ll see there’s an animated progression – the data moves, it reveals itself as the reader watches. Judicious use of animation or progressive reveal enables you to captivate your audience. Overdone, it can detract from your message and your credibility, so be smart.

The trend is punctuated with dots representing the start of a recession. The size, color, and stickiness of the dots makes them clearly distinct from the rest of the visualiations. This invites interaction, which is immediately rewarded.

During playback the animation pauses to reveal more information about the recession.

With this visualization I’ve prioritized the interaction to keep the viewer engaged, and remove interactions that are not necessary to the story I want to tell.


Selecting a recessions shows additional details about the recession helping the reader understand the data.

Selecting a recessions shows additional details about the recession helping the reader understand the data.

There is one additional aspect of the chart, a deeper understanding of time. When creating compelling visualizations we need to help the audience grasp abstract concepts. While time is familiar to us, a timeline spanning 50+ years from 1948 to present, can be abstract.

Many of your readers would not associate 1948 with anything concrete without prompting. So the visualization includes the Presidential administration across the bottom to contextualize the dates.

As a bonus, the list of administrations is interactive, it filters the other visuals. This makes it easier to investigate the data. Notice however the bar graph above the year. This graph is unaffected by the filter. This additional context enables comparisons even when looking at a subset of data.


Ideas in brief

  • Clearly communicate insights, without distortion
  • Use animation or progressive reveal judiciously to captivate your audience
  • Help your audience grasp abstract concepts
  • Provide additional context to enable comparisons



This visualization uses the Pulse Chart visualization I helped design for a project at Microsoft. The bottom slicer is a Chiclet Slicer designed by Microsoft to enable visual slicing of information. The remainder of the visualizations on the page are built-in visualizations provided by Microsoft Power BI.

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