Monday, July 28, 2008

Information Design: America's Conflicts

While recently using AIGA's invaluable Design Archive for some project research, I stumbled across The New York Times' fantastic info graphic,"In Perspective: America's Conflicts." This visualization succinctly and effectively compares the cost, in lives and dollars, of America's twentieth century conflicts – World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and both Gulf conflicts. The charts likewise compare advances in wartime technology, focusing on the increased precision and efficiency of US air power.

(click on the image to see a larger version)

According to the AIGA Design Archive, the Times' "design problem was to create a large, explanatory figure that would put into a wider context the casualties sustained in Iraq. The design approach remains essentially the same with all informational graphics at the Times: Be clear and be compelling. Design the data so that patterns emerge, not the hand of the designer."

Indeed, our complaints regarding this otherwise excellent visual depiction of data are few. Regarding the incorporation of conflict map, the colors chosen to represent the various theaters are difficult to discern, especially between related conflicts – the world wars, the Asian, and the Gulf conflicts. Likewise, the human cost of World War I, while relevant, is inconsistently depicted. Even without accurate monthly statistics – which I suspect, as a historian, are out there, buried in some archive – World War I's human toll should be represented in a fashion more immediately similar to the later conflicts. And the current conflict could be more accurately depicted if it included the costs of the simultaneous war in Afghanistan and the longer, ongoing insurgency in Iraq.

Regardless of these critiques, the info graphic does an excellent job of contextualizing the last 100 years of US armed conflict – in particular the juxtaposition of the monthly loss of lives during the Gulf conflicts and World War II, a comparison oft made by Washington with, apparently, little basis in real-world comparison. FB

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