Visualizing the lives lost in Syria

Posted by Michael Lopez


A picture is worth a thousand words, but this data visualization is worth a thousand lives.

March 16 marks the four-year anniversary of the start of the conflict in Syria. The Washington Post published a large illustration of the Syrian flag running across pages A10 and A11 on Sunday, March 29, to illustrate how many Syrian lives have been lost in the four years of Syrian conflict.

The illustration was handmade by Senior Graphics Editor of the Washington Post Richard Johnson.

The illustration is created in the style of stipple — (in drawing, painting, and engraving) mark (a surface) with numerous small dots or specks.

The illustration is made of exactly 220,000 dots. Each dot represents a life lost in Syria during the four years of conflict. The flag doesn’t only give a visual of how many lives were lost. The red portion of the flag turns into blood droplets, and the black portion of the flag turns into Syrian citizens falling. This data visualization is a great example of giving a realistic illustration of how many lives were lost while also illustrating the suffering of Syrian lives.

View the online version here.

While infographics are a great way to compare data and analytics, data visualizations are a great way to make something feel more real.

Seeing 220,000 dots better delivers a message of lost lives rather than reading a number. By creating a visual, you make those 220,000 lives real. Each dot is a Syrian life that was lost.


3 responses to “Visualizing the lives lost in Syria

  1. Wow. This is definitely a very creative and effective way of getting information across. Too often, we become numb to statistics and tune out when a bunch of numbers are thrown at us, but a visualization like this really drives the point home.

  2. I agree with Sydney, but on the other hand, people may look at the photo without context and then continue skimming the paper. There’s a chance that some may not understand the meaning of the hard work or the meaning behind the image itself, if there are no statistics attached. It’s a very creative and thoughtful project, and I respect it whole-heartedly. But if we’re questioning the effectiveness of the message it conveys…I’m not sure.

  3. I think the project is profound, but I do have to agree with Molly about giving some context to the art. I followed the link you provided to the online version, but is that the actual article that was run in the Washington Post? Or did the print publication offer a more in-depth article. I’m all for artful representations, but I think they work best in conjunction with a narrative – just the writer in me talking!

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