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.
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…
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.