Week 4: Interactive graphic based on US unemployment stats

Our goal this week was to think about what kind of interactive graphic we could create based on the data used in the Guardian’s piece about unemployment in the US -> http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2011/sep/08/us-unemployment-obama-jobs-speech-state-map

There is a lot of data used behind the scenes of this graphic which is great but is also slightly frustrating. For example, if you click on a particular state, you get a wealth of additional information – but it doesn’t allow you to easily compare it to other states. The same goes for the drop-down at the top of the graphic – it’s great that you can view the unemployment rate at particular point in time, but it’s really hard to compare unless you are focussing on a particular state. I do however like the range of comparisons that have been made with the data, especially the ability to visualise the percentage point difference from the national figure – I shall have to remember that one in future 🙂

And so, I jotted down some thoughts about what I would like to see on an interactive graphic like this and came up with the following list;

  • The Guardian piece focuses on the unemployment rate in the US since Obama came to power…what about further back?
  • Is state level in-depth enough? What about within the state – how does the unemployment rate differ within the states themselves?
  • In the accompanying course material, we were told not to add more than 6 colours to a choropleth map (which makes total sense for comparison) but what about viewing a small list of those counties with the very lowest & highest unemployment rates that would normally be enclosed in ranges?
  • Based on feedback from last week’s assignment – I wanted to focus more on type, colour and “interactiveness” of the graphic – this is definitely where I need more practise.

And so with all of this in mind, I scribbled down possible graph/map/info ideas and arranged them on the table (see last week’s post for an idea of how it looked!) and I came up with this:

Unemployment Rates in the US (PDF)

Unemployment Rates in the US – with notes (PDF)

Notes about the graphic

  • The user is able to scroll back in time to see how the unemployment data differs on the map of the US. I added a line graph so that it was clear to see years when the unemployment rate was particularly high/low. I did think about adding an overlay to show the years that a new President came in to power – incidentally there does seem to be a trend of the unemployment rate dropping in the year this happens – but I did not progress along this line of investigation for this project. Maybe another time 🙂
  • The map at the top is interactive and allows the user to click on a particular county to see detailed information about it as well as the state in which is belongs. The small bar chart on the left would become active when a county is selected.
  • The user also has the ability to tick the boxes and add lines to the graph showing the county and state unemployment rates and compare them to the national figures.
  • I have taken on board comments from last week about colour, type and making it appear more interactive. It was VERY hard being so restrained with colour (I’m not used to this!) but I actually found working with Colorbrewer for the map colours gave me a base to start from and I didn’t stray from there.

I am really happy with this graphic and I didn’t rush as much as I did last week. I took my time, didn’t faff around with Illustrator too much and so had more time to concentrate on what I wanted to do and actually what I’d want to see on an interactive visualisation like this.

22 days left on my Illustrator trial…will I be adding it to my Christmas list (as well as Alberto Cairo’s book and Andy Kirk’s too)? YES!



  1. Thanks Adele, I’ve just signed up for the class that starts next year, and I found your blog post really helpful – pushed me to take the class too.

    1. That’s great, thanks Laura!

      One word of advice, make sure you dedicate about 6-8 hours a week to the course. I find I spend hours tinkering with the graphics in Illustrator and so make sure you leave a lot of time for this. But it has been absolutely fantastic, you’re in for a treat in January 🙂


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