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Impact of vaccines in the UK. (And lessons in better data viz.)

Below are a couple of visualisations I created looking at the impact that vaccines have had in the UK.

Experimenting with different mediums, the measles graphic was created using ink on paper, and the whooping cough using charcoal. Digital text was added to both. 

Impact of measles vaccine infographic

Source for both graphics: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/notifiable-diseases-historic-annual-totals. These are notifications of disease. A proportion of notified cases are shown subsequently not to be the implicated infection. Totals for 2018 are provisional.

My examples above are not perfect, but key features of these visuals are:

  • They incorporate imagery of the subject matter. Hopefully this makes them more engaging and emotive than faceless charts we often see.
  • Scale is visualised to allow viewers to better grasp the comparison between then and now.
  • Less can be much more. There is a lot of information missing from these charts, for example:
    • Measles: we don’t see the year-on-year fluctuations of cases.
    • And we have no idea how many spots are actually on each face.
    • Whooping cough: we can read the highest and lowest values but nothing in between.
    • The scales used suit the larger pre-vaccine values, therefore we cannot see how cases have fluctuated in recent years with much smaller values.
  • BUT, less information = less distraction and by stripping out the noise simple messages can be conveyed more effectively.
  • And finally, they just don’t look like dreadful corporate charts that can instantly turn a non-technical audience off.

For comparison, similar data is provided in the graphic below from Public Health England:

Source: The impact of vaccines: infographic. Public Health England, 2016.

There is far more information here than my woeful efforts, and this may go down well with the intended audience (whoever they may be). However, in my opinion, it is also dry, wordy and the imagery does not effectively add to the understanding of the message. 

Conclusion: More simple + creative visualisations please!

On a final note, I want to make sure I don’t take an ounce of credit for the style of the measles chart. The talented Mona Chalabi (@monachalabi) created a similar chart for The Guardian here, and I just thought it was a fabulous way to visualise the data.

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