An amazing display of data visualization in Sunday’s Washington Post

Did you see this piece of genius data visualization in Sunday’s Washington Post?

The conflict in Syria just passed its fourth anniversary. Over those four years, more than 220,000 people — nearly a quarter of a million — have been killed.

Richard Johnson of the Post took a doubletruck to illustrate just how many lives that is. Running across pages A10 and A11 is this enormous illustration of a Syrian flag, drawn in a form of stipple — it’s made of thousands of little dots.

Click this for a much larger view:


How many dots? 220,000 of them. Each dot represents a life lost in Syria.


Is that amazing, or what?

Richard didn’t just give readers a realistic illustration of a Syrian flag. Note how the red portion at the top turns into droplets of blood…


…while the black parts below depict Syrian citizens in freefall.


Here’s what the artwork looked like before it was converted it into dots:


Richard was kind enough to reply to my queries:

Q. [I was wondering] how you plotted the artwork. Is there software that did that for you?

A. Ha. I wish. Nope, all plotted by hand in Adobe Illustrator. Had it gone black and white, I would have scaled the dots to make the shades in black.


Q. Wow. That’s what I was afraid of! About how much time did you spend on that?

A. I had about six hours on Friday and three [Saturday] to get it ready after the concept was cleared.

Q. Awesome stuff, man. As usual.

I’d invite you to visit the online version of Richard’s piece, where a little magnifying glass allows you to zoom in on various sections of the artwork…


…and see the detail work for yourself.


Those of you who have sat through my slideshows on infographics — and especially my “graphics for word people” sessions — have heard me talk about infographics vs. data visualization.

Typically, infographics quantify and compare, using data to help you get a handle on information that may — or may not — have meaning for you or your family or your career or your government. Or maybe just on something you care about — a hobby or an interest.

Data visualization, on the other hand, typically doesn’t really compare data or actually quantify anything in a way that invites analysis. Typically, data visualization is there just to help you get your head around something. It’s more there to make you say Hmm. Or maybe Wow. Or even Holy shit!

Richard’s piece definitely does that.

But that’s not surprising. He’s done this sort of work a lot, over the years. On the left, below, Richard used simple data visualization to show the number of people who had been killed by handguns in just the first month after the Sandy Hook incident.


The piece on the right is equally stunning. This shows the equipment — and especially the ammo — carried by the man who shot up the movie theater in Colorado three years ago.

I wrote about the “31 Days later” piece at the bottom of this blog post. The other graphic ran while I was teaching in Kenya, so I missed it at the time. I use both of these in my slide shows, however. They’re both amazing.

See more of Richard’s infographics work here.

In addition, Richard has made a number of trips to Iraq and Afghanistan to produce battlefield sketchbook work.


Twenty of his sketches, in fact, now reside in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Here’s a Tedx talk from last year in which Richard speaks about his battlefield work:

Richard made his first war zone tour when he was still with the Detroit Free Press. The Freep collected his work into a book.


It normally lists for $19.95 but is on sale right now at the Freep for $12.95. Amazon, too, has discounted the book. Buy it from them for the nice, round number of $16.81.

Richard is really amazing. You saw earlier that he did this Syria doubletruck Friday and Saturday. But what did he do in his spare time Saturday and Sunday mornings?

This little piece…


sketched on-site, of course.


Wow. Again.

See more of his “urban sketches” here.


1989 graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, Scotland, Richard was an artist at the Detroit Free Press. He was named graphics editor of the Globe and Mail of Toronto in 2005. He moved to the same position at the Toronto National Post in 2007 and then left newspapers for nearly two years as an Information Management Officer at the United Nations. He returned to the National Post in 2010 and then to the Washington Post in October 2013.

Find Richard’s web site here and his Twitter feed here.

Birthdays for Monday, March 30

Here’s wishing the happiest of birthdays to five outstanding visual journalists…


Adolfo Arranz is creative director for MediaCorp of Singapore. Previously, Adolfo worked as an infographics artist for Madrid’s el Mundo and then the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. I wrote about his work most recently here. Find Adolfo’s portfolio here and his blog here. Find his Twitter feed here.


Denise Bridges is a communications and administration specialist based in Williamsburg, Va. A 1977 graduate of the University of Southern California, Denise earned an MBA in strategic planning from the University of New Mexico. She worked with the Associated Press’ Los Angeles bureau, the Nashville Tennessean, the Albuquerque (N.M.) Tribune, the Wilmington, Del., News-Journal and the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune. She served as a community editor for the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., and as professional development director of the Virginia Press Association before joining the Virginian-Pilot in 2005 as director of newsroom operations and staff development. She left the Pilot in 2013. Find her Twitter feed here.


Patrick Evans-Hylton is senior editor for food and wine for Hampton Roads magazine and executive editor of Virginia Wine Lover magazine. A 1996 graduate of Johnson and Wales University, Patrick also hosts a food-themed weekly radio show and teaches gourmet cooking at the Culinary Institute of Virginia. He is the author of six books –his most recent is Popcorn. He also is CEO (“Chief Eating Officer”) of his own company,, which promotes Hampton Roads-area food and restaurants. Find his Twitter feed here. Patrick turns 50 today.


Roger Friedensen is a more than just a public relations expert, he’s a “reputation consultant.” Roger is president and CEO of Forge Communications, a strategic communications and marketing firm based in Raleigh, N.C. A holder of bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of North Carolina, Roger spent 21 years as as vice president and director for client services for Epley Associates, Inc. of Raleigh. He moved to the Catevo Group as senior vice president in 2006 and forged Forge in November 2009. He’s on the executive committee of the counselor’s academy of the Public Relations Society of America, on the steering committee of the Regional Transportation Alliance and he’s a past president of the Raleigh Public Relations Society. As if all that wasn’t enough, Roger is also a guitarist and has released two CDs. Roger’s wife, Teresa Kriegsman, is the former design director of the News & Observer. Find his Twitter feed here. Roger turns 54 today.


Kerry Sipe is the former online news coordinator for the Virginian-Pilot. A 1967 graduate of the University of North Carolina, Kerry spent time at the Charlottesville, Va., Daily Progress and the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. before joining the Pilot. He spent more than 20 years as a reporter, photographer, copy editor, public editor and city editor for the Pilot’s Chesapeake and Virginia Beach bureaus before becoming the paper’s online news go-to guy in 2001. Kerry took a buyout in 2008 and turns 69 today.

Adolfo, Patrick, Roger, Denise and Kerrry share a birthday with actors Henry Warren Beaty (better known as Warren Beatty), Anthony Robert McMillan (better known as Robbie Coltrane), Paul Reiser, John Allen Astin, Ian Andrew Ziering, Mark Consuelos and Matthew Doran; musicians Céline Marie Claudette Dion, Eric Patrick Clapton, Geethali Norah Jones Shankar (better known as Norah Jones), Tracy Chapman, Randy VanWarmer, Stanley Kirk Burrell (better known as MC Hammer), Justin Cole Moore, Rolf Harris, Francesco Paolo LoVecchio (better known as Frankie Laine) and Astrud Weinert Gilberto; TV game show host Ralph Pierre LaCock (better known as Peter Marshall); sports greats Jerry Ray Lucas (basketball), Christopher Allen “Chris” Sale (baseball), Lomas Brown Jr., William Andrew “Billy” Cundiff (both football), Sergio Ramos Garcia (soccer); painter Vincent Willem van Gogh and tabloid editor-turned-Larry King wannabe Piers Stefan O’Meara (better known as Piers Morgan).

In addition, today is Doctors Day, Pencil Day, Torrents Day, World Bi-Polar Day, I Am In Control Day and the Grass is Always Browner on the Other Side of the Fence Day. Seriously.

Have a terrific birthday today, folks! Best wishes!

Birthdays for Sunday, March 29

Here’s wishing the happiest of birthdays to four brilliant visual journalists…


Scott Heckel is a photographer for the Repository of Canton, Ohio. He’s a 1983 graduate of Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich. Find his SportsShooter page here. Scott turns 55 today.


Ryan Hildebrandt is the creative director of the Gannett Design Studio in Louisville, Ky. A 2002 graduate of Indiana University, Ryan began work as a temporary designer at the Indianapolis Star and then moved through the ranks, designing in every section. He left Indy in 2011 as news design director. Find his portfolio here and his Twitter feed here.


Mike Homan is an editor and designer for the universal desk of the McClatchy Publishing Center in Charlotte, N.C. A 1984 graduate of the University of Georgia, Mike worked as a news artist for the Savannah Morning News before moving to the Charlotte Observer in 1988. He has worked at the Observer as a news artist, graphics editor, advertising art director, and sales director. He spent four years with the Charlotte Business Journal before returning to the Observer newsroom in 2005 as page-one designer. He was folded into the McClatchy hub in 2011. He and his wife, Cindy, also own and operate Homan Designs Photography. Find his Twitter feed here. Mike turns 54 today.


Gary O’Brien is a certified occupational therapy assistant based in Tucson, Ariz. A 1979 graduate of Northern Arizona University, Gary worked for the North Las Vegas Valley Times, the Arizona Republic, the Arizona Daily Sun, the East Valley Tribune and the Mesa Tribune before joining the Charlotte Observer in 1988. He worked as a staff shooter, photo systems editor, regional picture editor and photo lab manager. He became the Observer’s night picture editor in 2006 but returned to Arizona in 2011, where he worked as a photographer, picture editor and multimedia producer. He went back to school to get his medical certificate at the Pima Medical Institute and started his new career last year. Find his portfolio here and his blog here. Find Gary’s Twitter feed here.

Ryan, Mike, Scott and Gary share a birthday with actors Eric Idle, Amy Louise Sedaris, Jessica Michelle Chastain, Lucille Frances Ryan (better known as Lucy Lawless), Christophe Guy Denis “Christopher” Lambert, Marina Sirtis and Hideaki Takizawa; musicians Pearl Mae Bailey, Peretz Bernstein (better known as Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction), John Popper (of Blues Traveler), Terrence Ross “Terry” Jacks and Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou (better known as Vangelis); sports greats Jennifer Marie Capriati (tennis), Dennis Dale “Denny” McLain, Denton True “Cy” Young (both baseball), Emlen Lewis Tunnell, Earl Christian Campbell, Justin Lee Tuck (all three football), Walter “Walt” Frazier (basketball) and George Blaha (announcer); model Elle Macpherson, retailer Samuel Moore “Sam” Walton, presidential brother William Alton “Billy” Carter III; coma victim Karen Ann Quinlan; politicians John Major, Eugene Joseph “Gene” McCarthy and John Tyler Jr. and political commentator John McLaughlin.

In addition to Palm Sunday, today is National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day, Niagara Falls Runs Dry Day, Texas Loves the Children Day and Knights of Columbus Founders Day. Seriously.

Have a wonderful birthday today, y’all! Best wishes!

Front page of the day

There’s a brilliant conceptual centerpiece on the front of today’s Lafayette, Ind., Journal & Courier:



  • A question headline — normally, I hate question headlines. But this one is very effective.
  • A wonderful typographical treatment on said headline.
  • What appears to be a little piece of stock art.
  • Lots of white space.
  • Nice decks on the two stories below.

This would have been designed in Gannett’s Louisville design studio. If anyone there can fill us in about details –  who designed it, how it came to be — please share.

This is the same paper — and the same design studio — that produced this page, back in January.


That, too, was stock art. I sent out several messages at the time trying to get details but came up empty-handed.

Both pages are great examples of how to build powerful, powerful work using stock images. Kudos to the kitchen staff.

Average daily circulation of the Journal & Courier is 25,531.

That page image is from the Newseum. Of course.

Birthdays for Saturday, March 28

Here’s wishing the happiest of birthdays to a pair of wonderful visual journalists…


William Castronuovo is editor and publisher of the Washington Reader in Washington, D.C. A 1983 graduate of the University of Maryland where he served as a reporter and then design director of the student paper there, the Maryland Diamondback, William has worked at a number of places over the years: The Washington Post weeklies, executive editor of the Reston (Va.) Times, graphics editor of the New York Daily News, art director of the Washington Times, sports art director of the National sports daily, publisher of a number of local D.C. suburban papers, design director of the Miami Herald, associate editor of the Gary (Ind.) Post-Tribune and then ten years as associate editor of the State of Columbia, S.C. Bill has been working since 2007 to launch the Reader. In addition, he’s working on a book that he hopes to publish soon.


Gary Nielson is a digital news and social media specialist for McClatchy’s 30 newsrooms, based in Charlotte, N.C. A graduate of the UMass in Amherst, Mass., Gary worked as a reporter and editor for the Valley Advocate, the Hartford Advocate, New Mass Media and the Anchorage Daily News before signing on as assistant features editor of the Charlotte Observer in 1988. He was made online editor of the Observer in 1995 and then moved to Knight Ridder Digital in 2000 as a national producer and then as market relations manager. He moved to McClatchy Interactive in 2012 and took on his current duties in 2013. Find his web site here and his Twitter feed here.

Gary and William share a birthday with actors Vincent Anthony “Vince” Vaughn, Dianne Wiest, Orla Brady, Annie Wersching, Nicholas John “Nick” Frost, Conchata Galen Ferrell and Kenneth Joseph “Ken” Howard; musicians Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (better known as Lady Gaga), Reba Nell McEntire, Rodney Allan Atkins and Cheryl James (of Salt-N-Pepa); TV personality Kate Irene Kreider Gosselin; sports greats Richard Francis Dennis “Rick” Barry III, Luke Theodore Walton (both basketball), Gerald Eugene “Jerry” Sloan (basketball coach), Keith Matthew Tkachuk (hockey), James Bayard “Jim” Turner (football), Mark David Melancon (baseball) and Christopher Patrick “Chris” Myers (announcer); brewer August “Gussie” Anheuser Busch Jr. and talk show host John Ziegler.

In addition, today is Barnum and Bailey Day, Endometriosis Day, Virtual Advocacy Day, Weed Appreciation Day and Be Mad Day. Seriously.

Best wishes, you two! Have a terrific birthday today!