Created by Australian multimedia designer David Bleja the BreathingEarth website helps provide a real-time sense of how rapidly the world’s population is growing and how much CO2 is emitted around the globe and around the clock. Its sort of stunning and mesmerizing to watch, mouse over countries to see more detailed information for each, and read the accumulated totals increasing while you have been watching.
This type of visualization helps to move data from the abstract and unimaginable realm, how many of today’s global issues are presented, into more concrete and imaginable information. Once information can be imagined as real it can have meaning which leads to increased likelihood of action.
For each new project I always look at identifying the parts that are abstract and seek engaging ways to turn them into real and tangible information for the audience. Often, what seems clear and real is only so because we are already knowledgeable about whatever subject or data whereas our intended audience may not only know less about the subject than we assume or is not as passionate about it as we are.
To ensure better outcomes, it is important to assess the level of knowledge and engagement of the audience, but it is also important to assess the level abstraction present in your project.
Another example of giving the abstract real and very imaginable meaning is the “If It Was My Home” website. A Google map overlay of the Gulf oil disaster onto the region you live in. By doing this I can easily see that where I live, the entire surface of Puget Sound and nearly the entire Pacific coast of Washington would be covered in oil. Sadly, that makes it very real.