Visualizing a Global Pandemic

We are in the midst of an unprecedented time in our history. And saying it like that still feels like an understatement. Unless you were alive during the Spanish Flu, no one has seen a pandemic of this scale, and no one is immune to it. The global spread of COVID-19 has been rapid.
What’s also spreading rapidly? All the data about this pandemic. It’s everywhere and unavoidable.
In a nonstop cycle of information and updates covering everything from global effects and local needs to economic stimulus and hoarding toilet paper, the data coming our way is OVERWHELMING. But what I have noticed is that a good portion of that information and data are being presented visually. In normal circumstances, presenting data and info in a visual way is ideal, but in our current situation it’s practically imperative.

Why? Because humans are wired to be visual and react to images and graphics. Ninety percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Studies have shown that visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. We also know that comprehension of information increases by 400% when presented as a visual. Even before you finished reading this paragraph, your brain already processed the information in the graphics above.
Now imagine all the information and data you have consumed about COVID-19 in the past month, week or even last 24 hours. What do you remember? What information do you understand? And what form was it presented in? I bet the vast majority of it was presented as a visual.
Just look at some of these examples, which most of us have seen a few times. Think back to how quickly you processed the information. Here’s one for the symptoms COVID-19 put out early by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s very visual, easy to understand and highly effective.

This example provides more information, but it’s still very easy to understand and provides the viewer with valuable information.

Here are two examples that illustrate the spread of COVID-19 with and without taking measures, such as social distancing and shutting down nonessential businesses. Both of these graphs manage to squeeze significant amounts of information into a single graphic. They easily tell a complete story that would take paragraphs of text to explain.

By far, this next visual is one of my favorites. Through animation we are able to distill several months of data into a visual that tells a powerful story about the spread of COVID-19 around the globe. You can see the rate of spread and the number of cases by date that affected to the top 10 countries. The layout, design and execution are phenomenal. The placement of the date changing day by day, the movable stack of countries going up and down, the tally of cases and their relativity to other nations would be an extremely complicated story to explain in text form. Yet this video informs and tells a story without a single word of voice-over. Take a look.

What’s even more helpful is that more and more of these visuals are interactive. This offers the viewer the opportunity to explore the information more thoroughly as well as focus on the details that matter most to them. By allowing self-guided exploration, the viewer will spend more time with the visual and walk away with a greater understanding of what was presented. Check out this example of an interactive map. It provides data from a global level all the way down to a local level.

The more you look, the easier it is to notice just how much data is out there and how much easier it is to absorb when it’s more visual. As a result, people are better informed, which is crucial in a time like this. Moving forward, let’s all pause and look at the communications we’re sending out and ask ourselves if this would be better understood delivered in a visual way.