The challenges of data visualisation during coronavirus

Data journalist Mona Chalabi and Information Is Beautiful founder David McCandless tell us what it’s been like creating infographics during these uncertain times

Infographics have long been a way to communicate big chunks of data in a quick and clear way. From graphs to tables, maps to charts, they allow us to pick out patterns and find trends, and allow us access to reams of information in one hit.

But what about during a pandemic? In a global crisis is it possible to distil information that’s changing every day into visuals that not only we can understand but that are accurate as well? Infographics and data visualisations always come with questions around data integrity, but Covid-19 has amplified these challenges as well as the pressure on analysts. “Information right now is so critical,” says US-based data journalist Mona Chalabi. “We’ve seen how the spread of information has actively changed people’s behaviour and had life or death consequences … the stakes are higher than ever.”

Chalabi is the data editor for the Guardian US and her work has appeared in publications all over the world. Since coronavirus took over the headlines and pretty much everyone’s waking thoughts, she’s been responding to people’s questions and sharing her visualisations on her social channels, all on top of her other work. “Obviously I don’t respond to every single question I get, often it’s based on whether it’s a question I also have, or if it’s a question that could potentially inform individual behaviour, in a way that’s good for our collective health,” she explains.

Estimation of deaths graphic, 13 March 2020, Mona Chalabi