Inspired by Matthew’s blog and the statement “you don’t build movements with bar graphs,” I was compelled by the question of how to enact social change through the beautification of facts and stats. There is certainly an element of shock and awe that can come from images of natural disasters, or the denaturalization of certain paradises, but there is also the need to appeal to the left side (or rational side) of our brain as well. The facts of climate change are unequivocal and verifiable, feasible solutions have been proposed, but general public acceptance is to date our greatest hurdle to social change on a number of issues – particularly our standstill on addressing environmental well-being both locally and on the global level.

Billion Dollar O-GramConsidering that we are unsure what to do with all the facts and stats out there, and also the ever growing notion that we are all demanding a visual aspect to our information, the question then reverts back to something we continually grapple with: how can we communicate science through art. David McCandless’s lecture on “The Beauty of Visualization” tries to address this by taking all those stats relating to military spending, GDP, health care spending, corporate profits, climate change, etc. and creating a mosaic of comprehendible figures. The picture above (The Billion Dollar O-Gram) for example visualizes the price tag of a number of global phenomena in the form of colour-coded rectangles. At a quick glance you see a large blue square representing OPEC earnings, and within it a comparatively tiny orange square representing the OPEC Climate Change fund. Another example depicts the price of saving the Amazon as taking up only half the size of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Even at this quick glance, it becomes easy to identify some inequities, some gaps in conventional communication, and most importantly some prevalent global needs for well-being.

While charts, graphs, and billion dollar o-grams can only take us so far, it certainly contextualizes our grand problems and shapes them into concepts we understand. Appealing to the right side of our brain with creative imagery and artistic representation can certainly help us grasp the grand picture and perhaps inspire change, but also appealing to the left side of our brain with the deduction of this picture into a number of facts will lead to rational understanding of the intricacies of an array of problems and perhaps best shed light on potential solutions.

In the spirit of collaboration and dialogue, please comment below: How else can we communicate facts so as to create social change? What modes of communication best resonate with you?


4 thoughts on “An Opportunity for Understanding

  1. Sean Campbell says:

    Hi Miles, great blog post!

    There are lots of great examples of art and visualisation reframing complex arguments into something digestable.

    Here is a TED talk by Chris Jordan who uses (sometimes shocking) imagery to show:

    There is also a great document on Climate Marketing and the most effective way to communicate the message:

    I think this is really the exciting part of our place in history. The science is in, the marketing and action are anything but.


  2. Cheryl Ives says:

    Great ideas! I’ve been grappling with the same problem. I’m interested in a software that will take a picture – say, a crowd, or a cup, a mountain or a spinning top – and shape it using data/stats. I haven’t found it – anyone want to help make it?

  3. Miles says:

    Hey Cheryl & Sean -Thanks for the comments!

    Unfortunately I don’t have any ideas on how to make those data pictures Cheryl, but I do think they can be incredibly effective and powerful at communicating a message. I wonder if a fun/unique way to approach something like that would be to get an artist to draw or paint an image using data (e.g. using only pie charts), rather than finding a software to do the job. This may give it an interesting human element, and likely only add to the artistic approach you’re looking for.

    Sean, these are great links, and I think Chris Jordan’s TED talk really shows another way art can be engaging, influential, and informative. I love to see a vast array of different ideas on how to push forward movements and social awareness. Art being one through photography, documentaries, paintings, or even flash mobs, whereas your Sell The Sizzle report helps us move on to the new phase of movements. When the science is settled, the next step is to sell it. Therein lies our challenge.

  4. Jenn says:

    Hi Miles and Cheryl (and Sean!)

    I think what you might be referring to is what’s known as an infographic…maybe? Most graphic designers should be able to put these together.

    But Miles, your idea about getting artists to create a piece using data is super cool! A unique way to engage a group in the community that we wouldn’t traditionally associate with data and statistics.


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