Visualizing Issues with Black Friday

I’m fairly certain this piece is already outdated, considering most major businesses are already in the planning process for Black Friday 2015. Let’s just frame this as an “opportunity to reflect.” Just two months ago, The Guardian published an interactive story looking at the effects of Black Friday doorbuster deals on the lives of retail employees nationwide. It’s a story we hear every year, and in my opinion, the issue seems to worsen over time with every major store competing to open earlier than its counterpart–and as a result, employees having to take more time off of their Thanksgiving holidays.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 5.35.02 PM

The Guardian’s approach to telling this specific story was unique and, in my opinion, highly effective in terms of delivering a ton of information to everyday readers in an approachable manner. Popovich and Powell turned what was originally a predictable (not to undermine the importance of the story–or the people in the story) narrative and made it easy to consume.

The site lays out the perfect combination of text, visuals, and interactivity. In fact, my favorite thing about this method of storytelling is that despite the interactive elements, the authors chose to keep a few paragraphs worth of text so that the interactivity remained secondary. Supplementary, and not distracting. I personally found this amount of text comforting, given that I could depend on the words to understand the story, and on the interactive elements to understand the context of the story–not the story itself. That isn’t to say I think all interactive news stories would benefit from taking this approach in balance…but it definitely worked for this particular story.

Upon first opening the page, visitors are greeted by a friendly graphic that incorporates a lot of the familiar language used in Black Friday advertisements: “Open Thanksgiving”! “Deals!” This first graphic is so eye-catching that, in a way, it serves as more of a headline to me than it does a visual. Immediately after reading the catchy phrases in light blue, I can tell that this will be a story about retail or Thanksgiving (for some reason the word “Thanksgiving in that gray bar really caught my attention),

Upon scrolling down further (and just when I think I’ve learned the whole story), I am brought to the first interactive visual: a chart showing the evolution of major retailers’ Thanksgiving and Black Friday hours, from 2009 to present. This is probably a good time to note that the entire story only utilizes two colors aside from white and black: light and dark blue (Walmart blue, I wonder?). The color choice makes the chart easy to process, and only once your mouse hovers over each horizontal bar does the entire line light up and reveal the evolving opening times for each retailer.

(And at this moment, I’ve decided that trying to explain how an interactive graphic works is harder than it seems, so I’ve copped out with a screenshot.)

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Following the chart, text continues (with another visual afterwards). I’m assuming that the designer intentionally placed the graphics in between chunks of text to give a break to viewers’ eyes, but that might just be me.

In all, I think this site has been crafted with the intent to carry a message about employee wages. The remaining text after the last interactive chart reminds the reader that the economic inequalities between seasonal employees and those with more stable employment is something to consider when talking and thinking about Black Friday. The balance between copy and visuals is appropriate for a story of this weight. The only thing I wondered upon finishing this story was whether it would have benefited from including images of actual Black Friday employees. For some reason, the copy and charts looked nice together (very minimalistic!), but the exclusion of the actual people being discussed in the story made me feel very distant from the whole issue.


One thought on “Visualizing Issues with Black Friday

  1. I thought this was such an interesting way to visualize a day and the progression of how Black Friday has consumed our society over the years. I think another interesting level of analysis that could add some context to this story is how advertising, spending and on various platforms, has evolved throughout the years for Black Friday.


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