Week 3: Big Data

Tasks

  • Choose one of the five examples of information design provided.
  • Analyse its effectiveness, the story revealed and the role both design theory and practice took in producing the work.
  • Write a 500-word synopsis of your analysis in your research journal and include visual references and highlights of the piece examined.
  • Create a piece of editorial design to portray your final synopsis and visual references.

 


Choose one of the five examples of information design provided.

Nightingale-mortality

I have chosen Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East by Florence Nightingale, 1858.

Analyse its effectiveness, the story revealed and the role both design theory and practice took in producing the work.

Nightingale-mortality
Figure A

Created in 1858 by Florence Nightingale after her experience of the Scutari hospitals during the Crimean War, the Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East (Figure A) represents the causes of death between April 1854 and the end of the War in March 1856. It takes the form of two polar area vortex graphs with coloured areas spanning out from the centre point to show the proportion of death split between wounds, preventable diseases and all other causes. The graph on the right shows the deaths of British soldiers setting out for the war when conditions were overcrowded and unhygienic. The left-hand graph is from a year later when Nightingale’s improvements and new sanitary systems were taking effect. 

The Crimean War was the first war to be covered by a foreign correspondent, William Howard Russell of The Times, who reported on the shocking conditions endured by soldiers and the Army’s shortcomings. Nightingale arrived in Istanbul in November 1854, followed six months later by the Sanitary Commission who flushed sewers and established a clean water supply. 

The diagram’s beauty is that it can be quickly understood and that its simple appearance belies a more ingenious complexity. At a glance, the deaths by preventable disease greatly outnumber the deaths from wounds and other causes. Reading through the accompanying notes, however, the reader becomes aware that the total deaths by preventable disease is overlapped by the total deaths by wounds and other causes thus making the situation more shocking than at first glance.

Area is key in the understanding of polar area vortex graphs. Rather than the total deaths being measured along the length of radius, the graph presents the total by the area of the segment. The density of the data stays constant no matter the distance from the centre point. The chosen colours differentiate suitably or each cause of death.   

Nightingale could have manipulated the presentation of data to emphasise the need for better conditions by not overlapping the causes of death, or have scaled deaths according to the radius instead of the area of the segments. The proportions, though, are large enough to deem the first method unnecessary, and the second misleading because the eye sees area rather than length. However, the presentation of the first graph to the right and the second to the left is unusual in modern design standards where readers would expect the information to flow from left to right: from the terrible conditions to improving conditions.  

The diagram was published in 1858 after Nightingale’s return from Crimea. She was met with resistance from the establishment who did not believe that the conditions in the army were so poor and that they could – and should – be improved. She was correct in understanding that tabulated data would not capture the attention of people who would affect change, and formulated the diagram with statistician William Parr to represent loss of life in a more tangible way. As a result of the diagram and Nightingale’s resolute campaigning conditions for the ordinary ranks of the army were overhauled and forever improved. 

Create a piece of editorial design to portray your final synopsis and visual references.

Editorial design is something I haven’t really done before: the few pieces I’ve done for this course have disappointed me later. I want to really experiment with where the type is positioned, the diagram and the white space this week so that I can practice getting something just right.

FN_Layout4

Collaborate through group discussions on the Ideas Wall.

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