How the world lost 1 million lives to Covid-19

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: The Straits Times

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 26 Sep 2020

Credit: Rebecca Pazos, Stephanie Adeline, Tampus Charles Singson, Tin May Linn, Xaquin G. V.

Project description:

Eight months after China recorded its first death, more than one million people had lost their lives to Covid-19, a disease that has touched every continent and shows no signs of abating.

In an effort to convey how the virus spread across the globe and triggered waves of devastating deaths in different regions, we used a ‘stream graph’ data visualisation.

Guiding our readers on both mobile and desktop was not easy. We decided to use scrollytelling techniques to explain what was happening in each region at different times.

Impact reached:

Despite being a controversial data visualisation choice, we believe it was aptly suited to leaving a lasting and memorable impression while at the same time conveying the waves of death toll for each region as they occured at different times.

It was discussed by popular data viz experts, including Alberto Cairo and Javier Zarracina. This earned us recognition in the global data viz community, placing us alongside WaPo and El Pais for one million death coverage.

We were also approached to talk about this chart by Jon Schwabish of PolicyViz for a series he is launching in 2021 called “One chart at a time”.

Techniques/technologies used:

We used D3 and scrollytelling techniques to create the stream chart and smoothly tell the story over time.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Getting the streamchart to work on mobile. Originally, we were going to use it from left to right across the page but quickly realised this wouldn’t work for vertical screens.

Also, we were very concerned that the full impact of this chart wouldn’t be the same on mobile. But, we think in the end, the narrow tip that is China’s first wave leading into the enormous waves of deaths in other regions still has impact for mobile readers.

We also struggled to justify if this was the best chart option for what we wanted to show. We ended up choosing it because our focus wasn’t on comparing deaths between regions but looking at the timing of the ‘waves’ of death which occured at different times throughout the year.

What can others learn from this project?

Visualising lives lost: Data is the main focus for this piece as it aims to show the true context of how the world reached one million deaths. In one view, the reader can see which regions saw the heaviest losses.

Humanity in data: This is a tragic story. Sensitivity was paramount. We tried to use neutral yet informative language and add key photos to illustrate what was happening in each highlighted country.

Focus on Asia, in a global context: It was difficult but important for a paper like The Straits Times to explore the patterns of deaths for places in Asia and compare this with what was happening elsewhere. This was made even more difficult

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