Information is essential: design of data in the age of Covid-19

Presenting clear, considered data is more important than ever in assessing the level of threat - and infographic designers are rising to the challenge

With a 24-hour global news cycle and one dominant story that affects everyone around the world, we’re at risk of information overload about COVID-19, with endless streams of information and constant updates. With constantly changing numbers and the temptation to compare across countries despite the huge range of potential variables, clearly presenting complex information has become more important than ever. While visualisations can be powerful tools for communication, they can also mislead and – at worst – incite panic.

Information designers such as David McCandless from Information is Beautiful have been rising to the challenge, working on infographics that present up to date information on the spread of Covid-19 clearly and concisely, helping people understand the current state of affairs.

How we understand data is strongly impacted by the decisions made by a visualisation designer – from colour, text, scale to the selection of variables to show. There’s a fine balance between either under- or over-representing the potential threat; for example, the infographics blog Information is Beautiful came under fire for an image which compared Covid-19’s mortality rate to that of other longer standing diseases. This appeared to minimise the danger posed by the novel virus and has since been removed.

Equally, however, Covid-19 is not a death sentence, and visualisations that include ‘recovered case’ provide a vital piece of context and are absolutely worth celebrating at a time of what can be seen as unrelenting gloom.

A clearer picture

For those looking for a clearer picture, some of the best sites that we’ve seen include:

Covid-19 Dashboard at the Centre for Systems Science and Engineering at John Hopkins University here (includes confirmed cases, deaths and – importantly – recoveries).

Datawrapper’s regularly updated visualisations with useful notes on why they made specific choices here.

Fast Company’s outline of what to look out for in understanding visualisations here.

An excellent set of simulations on the effects of social distancing by Harry Stevens from The Washington Post here.

This is an extract from our full Covid-19 design roundup. The full article can be found in the Innovation Zone.

Imogen Privett is Senior Research Associate at WORKTECH Academy and Workplace Innovation Consultant at UnWork.
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