Communicating the Pandemic’s Effects on Culture and Society Through Data
We’ve all become accustomed to looking at charts that graph the toll COVID-19 has had on individuals and the healthcare system. But what about everything else the pandemic has affected?
Students in the BS in visual communication design course, “Issues in Information Design,” and the MS in health communication design class, “Communicating Health Data,” came together to use data and design to ponder this question. Through the study of the pandemic’s peripheral effects, they uncovered how COVID-19 has influenced our culture, society and economic and social behaviors.
With the goal of creating a publication from scratch, students selected an area affected by the pandemic and began collecting data. They researched articles from trusted news sources and then dug deeper into the data and studies referenced in the text.
After analyzing data sources, students looked for critical insights and considered what visual forms would best communicate these findings. They also investigated what’s “the story” and, importantly, how that will determine the information’s presentation. Understanding how to represent data in its most intuitive form is the value that visual communication expertise can bring to data visualization.
Students examined fundamental lifestyle changes like food and exercise; economic issues that influence consumer habits and shopping trends; the impact on mobility patterns, employment, mental health, education and opioids; and the social trends toward conspiracies and vices, such as drinking and gambling.
In one spread of the publication created by health communication design student Stephen Andreo, a proportional area chart communicates the staggering number of people experiencing adverse mental health symptoms during the pandemic.
“Analyzing COVID-19’s impact on the mental health of essential and non-essential workers and retired and unemployed people showed me that while the disease has a profound effect on the body, it also has had a hidden impact on the mind,” Andreo says. “In displaying the data, I wanted to focus on how COVID-19 has impacts that go well beyond the physical, especially with essential workers.”
Visual communication design student Dawson Skipper says he gained valuable experience working in teams and representing data in accurate, accessible ways with his publication spread on tracking mobility trends of driving, walking and mass transit.
“This project was a unique opportunity to collaborate with graduate and undergraduate students on formal design elements and take a closer look at the data to see how the pandemic has reshaped our lives and society more broadly,” adds health communication design student Eli Steiker-Ginzberg.
Students worked collaboratively (using Slack when not in person) to design the publication styles, creating an icon system, a color palette and a design template. The teams shared style guides they each created and assets for creating graphics.
Through this process of content curation and creation, design and production, students exchanged ideas, made compromises and worked together. This experience allowed them to take ownership and practice leadership and project management skills to produce an informational, professional-quality publication.
Renée Walker is a professor of visual communication design and health communication design at Jefferson.