The last few weeks have been so exhausting: violent assault on the Capital, second impeachment of then-occupant of the White House for inciting the violence, and finally the inauguration of our new President and Vice President.

Throughout the broadcast of the inauguration, there was repeated mention of the over 400,000 Americans who have already died of Covid-19. There was finally acknowledgement of it, and intentional mourning for them. There was a memorial and national mourning.

400,000!

I knew the number. But hadn’t let myself really emotionally process it yet.

So I created a data art-visualization piece about 400,000.

My first attempt was a scrolly-telling piece, where the crowd grows as we scroll through the page.

But the number was just too big. I couldn’t imagine anyone willing to keep scrolling. Even I hit my limit before it finished, and I was the one making the thing.

It would need to be an animation.

Part of the challenge was that I couldn’t fit 400,000 silhouettes of people on a normal screen and have them still be visually recognizable as people.

I tried adding them one by one, and making them semi-transparent. But the image still became solid very quickly.

I considered turning the silhouettes into dots and move them closer together, so that they could fit in the space of a screen. But this was over complicated and muddied the visual impact.

Then it occurred to me to cycle through colors, so that as soon as one ‘layer’ of people filled the screen, I’d make the next ‘layer’ a different color. This worked!

In my first version, I used a blue background. But I’ve changed it to a more somber dark grey.

I had considered putting a progress bar of sorts. But not only would that have visually complicated the piece, but it would imply that it’s over. We’re at over 400,000 American deaths due to Covid-19, and counting. And this doesn’t include the Global numbers. So, no. I decided against a ‘progress bar’.

What about those people silhouettes? I chose ProPublica’s WeePeople font to represent people for several reasons:

1. It is based on silhouettes of people in the Data Visualization community. So, it had a personal significance to me. I recognize specific people in it

2. It’s beautiful

3. It’s free to use and well documented

4. I knew how to use it, and had used it in a data viz piece I’d done about sampling and statistics.

The piece works on mobile, but looks a lot better on a bigger screen.

You can see the animation here: https://kristinhenry.github.io/howBig/

The first draft of this article was published on my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/posts/46568274

I had resisted updating this visualization to show 500,000. But I gave in, and updated it today. Additionally, I modified a few things in the new version. You can see it here: How big is 500,000?

Screenshot of starting button for ‘How big is 500,000?’ data visualization about Covid deaths.
Screenshot of starting screen from data visualization of 500,000 Covid deaths.
Screenshot of data visualization and animation using human silhouettes to represent 500,000 Americans who have died from Covid.

Data Visualization Consultant. Generative and Data Artist. Creative Coder. Founder of GalaxyGoo. http://kristinhenry.github.io/

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