We’ve pigeonholed infographics. We tend to think of them as these sprawling lists of big numbers in various bold fonts, punctuated with those male/female icons you used to only see outside of bathrooms, or they’re something a bit more clever, truly visualizing data in a fresh way that allows you to grasp a number or concept in a new light. But even that second aspiration is only part of the medium’s true potential.
This project by NYU student Doug Kanter, however, strikes an interesting chord. He mapped the casualties of U.S. soldiers in the Iraq war. It’s an infographic, sure, and it’s also an artistic statement charged with complicated political sentiment.
The image is driven by precise logic: Each stripe represents a count of fallen soldiers from each of the 50 states and 6 territories (presented in alphabetical order). Each star represents the same information with a similar alphabetical progression. It’s information, and yet, it’s more than information. It’s hard not to be affected by this incomplete flag, one that seems to be fraying and bleeding simultaneously.
I’ll admit that it’s a bit frustrating that I can’t quickly identify which lines and stars map to which states–and I’m not sure that repeating the same set of data in the stars and stripes makes the best use of the graphic’s real estate. Still, neither of these quibbles stops me from appreciating how Kanter has mapped data analysis onto the simplest of metaphors, yet retained a dignity in the data–people who have died in service.
There’s an unlocked potential in infographics. There’s a seldom-exploited possibility to show data within, not just iconographic context, but a metaphorical one. And as data viz matures as a medium, as artists and statisticians and tools just get better and better and better, well, let’s just say the bathroom guy’s days are numbered. No pun intended.