Data-Driven Storytelling at MSFT

Introducing Timeline Storyteller & ChartAccent for Microsoft Power BI

Matthew Brehmer · mabrehme [at] · @mattbrehmer

Microsoft Research · Microsoft Data Journalism Program
10-24-2017, UBC Journalism 520H · slides:

About Me

InfoVis PhD @ UBC 2011-2016, working with Tamara Munzner

Previous journalism-related work:
Overview Project (, TimeLineCurator, contributor to forthcoming book on data-driven storytelling.

Data-Driven Storytelling at Microsoft Bongshin Lee, Nathalie Henry Riche, & Matthew Brehmer

The Microsoft Data Journalism Program

Microsoft Power BI

Power BI in Data-Driven Journalism: Examples

Power BI in Data-Driven Journalism: Examples

Maria Ines Zamudio, Associated Press:

Power BI in Data-Driven Journalism: Examples

Rani Molla | @ranimolla:

More Stories featuring Power BI

Power BI: Getting Started

Custom Visuals for Power BI

Power BI Custom Visual Marketplace:

Our Team's Custom Visuals for Power BI:

Timeline Storyteller & ChartAccent

(Also available as standalone web applications)

Timeline Storyteller

A tool for designing visually expressive timeline narratives.

By Matthew Brehmer, Bongshin Lee, and Nathalie Henry Riche,
with Chris White, Darren Edge, David Tittsworth, and Kate Lytvynets.

Common visual representations of time:

Linear Radial Spiral Calendar Curve
Image: Joseph Priestley (1765)
Image: Joseph Priestley (1765)
Image: flickr/shenghunglin
Image: LadyofHats (Wikimedia Commons)
Image: flickr/46704958@N07
Image: flickr/studiocurve
See "How to make history dates stick" by Mark Twain in Harper's Monthly Magazine (1914).

What is a Timeline For?

What happened when?

In what sequence did the events occur?
How long did the events last?
How long between event A and event B?
Did A and B co-occur?
When did A and B occur relative to event C?

The Careers of U.S. Open Golf Champions

Wikimedia Commons; L: Dustin Johnson; R: Jim Furyk

The Careers of U.S. Open Golf Champions

Data source: Wikipedia. This data is also featured in this demo video.

A Timeline Design Space

Linear Radial Spiral Calendar Curve
Chronological Relative Logarithmic Sequential
Unified Faceted Segmented
20 purposeful, interpretable, & generalizable
timeline designs at

Expressive Storytelling With Timelines

Choice of representations and time scales
Support for chronological or non-chronological narratives

Other Timeline Tools: Timeglider

© (2010) Mnemograph LLC:

Other Timeline Tools: Timeline.JS

© (2013) Northwestern University Knight Lab: Timeline.JS

When's the Next Solar Eclipse?

Timeline Storyteller for Power BI: A Demo Story

More Timeline Storyteller Stories

Summary: Storytelling with Timelines

Different combinations of timeline representation and scale
communicate different aspects of the data.

Animated transitions, highlighting, and annotation
incrementally reveal and connect narrative points.

More About Timeline Storyteller


Create annotated & accentuated charts with a few clicks.

By Donghao Ren (UCSB), Matthew Brehmer, Bongshin Lee,
Tobias Höllerer (UCSB), and Eun Kyoung Choe (UMD).
“the annotation layer is the
most important thing we do...
otherwise it’s a case of here it is,
you go figure it out."
- Amanda Cox,
New York Times Graphics Editor

Chart Annotation in the Wild

Examples from Characterizing Visualization Insights from Quantified-Selfers’ Personal Data Presentations by Choe et al (2015)
7 Features You'll Want in your Next Charting Tool by Gregor Aisch (New York Times)
A Survey of annotated charts in news media

106 surveyed charts appearing in six major news outlets:

Types of Annotation Targets

Types of Annotation Targets (cont.)

Types of Annotation Forms
For those who prefer code: D3-Annotation by Susie Lu (Netflix)

Coming Soon: ChartAccent in Power BI

Summary: chartaccent

Consider the design space of annotation forms and targets.

How can we apply these techniques more broadly?
(beyond bar charts, line graphs, scatterplots)
open-source tool for web & Power BI
open-source tool for web & coming soon for Power BI · · @mattbrehmer