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The story of the pandemic in a single poster

Starting with “Seafood market in China’s Wuhan shut down over pneumonia scare,” this poster explains the fight against COVID-19 using one news story a day.

The story of the pandemic in a single poster
[Photo: courtesy David Rainbird]

In March 2020, as the pandemic shut down New York, designer David Rainbird watched—along with the rest of the world—as the headlines kept getting worse. “Events that seemed unthinkable only a few days before were actually taking place,” he says. “As the news cycle kept moving, I just wanted to hold onto them in some way.”

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In a project called 2020 Infodemic, he gathered a single headline from each day of the year. January 1: “Seafood market in China’s Wuhan shut down over pneumonia scare.” January 10: “China reports first death from new virus.” January 12: “China pneumonia outbreak not spreading at present: WHO.” January 13: “Thailand finds Wuhan novel coronavirus in traveler from China.” January 24: “China is building a 1,000-bed hospital in 6 days to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.” January 31: “Worldwide cases overtake 2003 SARS outbreak.”

[Photo: courtesy David Rainbird]
As others look at what happened in detail, as in The New Yorker‘s 30,000-plus-word essay “The Plague Year,” Rainbird’s project presents how the year unfolded concisely. “I wanted something that could fit on a poster, essentially,” he says. Somebody could look at that poster in 10, 20 years and learn something from it about how quickly a pandemic can take hold or get out of hand.”

[Photo: courtesy David Rainbird]
The approach can’t be comprehensive; with multiple major stories each day, he could only choose one. On January 25, for example, when Disneyland shut down in Shanghai, the first case of the virus was discovered in France. “It was impossible to cover everything that happened in the economy, in sport, culture, religion, all of those canceled events,” he says. He tried to include headlines about as much of the world as possible, though as things spiraled out of control in the U.S., it dominated. But even if the view is reductive, the list tells the story of the year in a new way.

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Rainbird is now continuing the project for 2021 and creating a poster for 2020 that will soon be for sale on the project’s website. The poster presents the headlines as a single block of text. “The poster version is one list of 366 headlines with no breaks,” he says. “It has the kind of feel of a war memorial—when you go to something like the Vietnam War Memorial—you just see text going on and on and on and on and on—or the 9/11 memorial. I wanted to have that feel, in a way. It’s kind of overwhelming, but it’s full of detail as well.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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