Flowers are blooming, sun shining, and Massachusetts lifting of COVID-19 restrictions gives us a sense that a typical summer returns. Massachusetts became a national leader due to its COVID-19 response and vaccine rollout.
Each week, the Massachusetts Department of Health releases a COVID-19 Dashboard, a document consisting of 52 pages that relays information to the general public. The documents include charts, graphs, spreadsheets, and dense walls of data-driven text.
While thorough and detailed, I started thinking if there was a better way to visualize detailed data. Would it be possible to create a piece of art that could visually communicate this information to the public?
Massachusetts Fully Vaccinated Illustrated
The graphic I created tilted “Maskachusetts.” I was pretty proud of Massachusett’s response to COVID-19 and appreciated the ubiquitous nature of mask-wearing in the Commonwealth. I sincerely believe this helped decrease our infection numbers and made everyone else safe. I’m also proud of Massachusett’s efforts to vaccinate residents. I wanted to create an image that visually communicated where Massachusetts currently is with vaccination efforts.
Although Massachusetts is one of the few states leading the nation in vaccinations, more work is needed. Bristol County, home of New Bedford, Fall River, Taunton, and Attleboro, ranks the second lowest vaccinated county in Massachusetts with 43%. Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod rank the highest vaccinated counties with 62-74% of the population fully vaccinated.
I find data visualization so inspiring. I’ve always loved how artists take steps to innovate visual information: their art challenges data, present information in creative ways, and forces people to look at data differently. I’d argue that visualizing information is a powerful tool more people, companies, and governments should use.
I love the work of data artist Laurie Frick, who uses complex patterns and various materials to illustrate massive sets of data, including childhood hunger, time, and the carbon footprints of the food we eat. She reminds me that data doesn’t need presenting in standard charts and graphs, and data can employ creativity to increase its effectiveness.
Artist Giorgia Lupi and her Instagram side project Dear Data regularly stop me in my moments of doom scrolling and offer me a glimpse of data that I never thought about before. Her information visualization fascinates me and provides much-needed context to large data sets. Sometimes, I just can’t get enough!
And finally, I can’t write this post about visual information without mentioning Sarah Illenberg, a data artist who explores sexual data with everyday objects. Her visualization techniques prompted me to create the image of Massachusett’s vaccination progress.
Why this works
Information Artist David McCandless suggests following four principles for successful visual information production. Information, story, concept, and graphical form. He argues that data should be honest and paired with a story that is relevant and interesting. The data presentation should be helpful, accessible, and developed with beautiful artistic practices.
If you have data that you’d like to share with the world, pause before creating a boring pie chart, bar graph, or slide chart. Instead, use creativity to communicate data more effectively.