Thursday 28 May 2020

Communicating big numbers

This is a very short post, inspired by the recent 'An Incalculable Loss' piece in the New York Times that printed 1,000 names of people who succumbed to Coronavirus. I found this very powerful, and it served as a great reminder of the human toll of what's happening right now. Sometimes it's hard to see the humanity in a chart or map, as useful and as powerful as they can be.

This is a cropped version of the image below

There have been some excellent written pieces and visualisations over the past few months, and these have helped the public understand better what is happening but at the same time I think it is easy to lose perspective with something so big. In the United Kingdom, it was recently reported that the total figure for 'excess deaths' passed 60,000. Some pointed out that this is close to one in a thousand. To me, that doesn't really resonate because it's the absolute value here that really hits home. Rates are very useful for comparisons, but sometimes the raw numbers are what we really want to get a sense of.

Therefore, it makes more sense to me, in terms of understanding the scale of the pandemic in the UK, if I think of it as the entire population of a place like Scarborough, or Corby, or Livingston, or Barry, or Macclesfield. All substantial towns of around 60,000 residents. 

So, to try to get my head round the scale of what's happening I plotted 60,000 points on a page, then visualised them using human figures. That is what you see below. 

Open in new tab/window to see full size

The largest version of this image can be found here. Once it loads in your browser you will be able to zoom and scroll but the idea is that either zoomed or unzoomed this helps shed light on how big the figure is.