Annie Best

Perhaps no one at Nexight is more excited about our growing global health portfolio than our graphic designers and data analysts. I’m particularly interested in the quantity and quality of data available in the health field—and how important understanding this data can be to good decision-making. As a designer with an interest in data, I see new opportunities to stretch our visualization muscles to produce innovative and information-rich graphics. An informal survey of what’s out there now shows me there is a lot of great data visualization work going on in global health. Here are a few of my favorites:

World Health Organization (WHO) — Yemen crisis: Tele-assessment of public health facilities, May– June 2015


This graphic from the WHO efficiently communicates the current status of Yemeni public health facilities and their locations. While the design may not be as “slick” as many data visualizations, it does a great job of quickly communicating information needed to assess rapidly changing crisis situations.  The simple maps and bold pie charts are a great choice for making key data points easy to scan for decision-makers.

Harvard School of Public Health and Column 5 – Global Burden of Disease: Good News and Bad News


The Harvard School of Public Health collaborated with designers and a program called Piktochart to create this data-rich infographic, which looks at the current state of global health. Two key design decisions help this graphic succeed in creating a cautiously optimistic narrative about disease in the global context. First, the use of paired information—good news, bad news—as the primary graphics draws the viewer in and tells a palpable story about the data. Second, the clear-eyed graphics reflect how an everyday viewer thinks about information, rather than a data scientist, making it a good example of designing for the right audience.

University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation – Millennium Development Goals


The screenshot of this interactive dashboard does not do justice to the breadth of its data and features. Unlike the previous example, this graphic is designed for public/global health professionals, allowing them to quickly assess progress toward the time-bound and quantified UN Millennium Development Goals.  The intuitive interface lets users compare progress between individual countries, over time, and between specific goals. As a tool, this data visualization targets the unique needs of an expert audience.

Florence Nightingale – Diagram of the Causes of Mortality of the Army in the East


Who knew that Florence Nightingale was a seminal data visualizer! This graphic from 1858 uses a sophisticated visual to combine quantity, timing, and causes of British Army mortality in one diagram. Her design sensibility was as crisp and clean as it comes given the technology available at the time. The larger blue wedges represent the number of deaths from preventable disease vs. death from wounds (red wedges) and all other causes (black wedges). Members of the UK Parliament were the main audience of Nightingale’s graphic, part of a series illustrating health conditions of British soldiers both on and off the battlefield. My main takeaway: visualization has always been critical in making data real and actionable to decision-makers.