January 26, 2017 |

Friday Think: 3 stories of innovation that transcend words

Using visual design to tell global health stories online.
Man walking around a corner of a building with graffiti on it.
Graff et Santé mural on a building in Senegal. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Sometimes the narrative arc of a great story goes beyond words. You might find it within the x- and y-axis of a compelling graph. On a wall in the form of a thought-provoking mural. Or through the clicks of a mouse as you dive deeper and deeper into an interactive feature. Digital content, when well-designed, puts us in the driver seat, allowing us to map our own route through an experiential maze. And then, before you know it, you’ve learned something new and valuable.

In my role as senior designer at PATH, I find great pleasure in exploring the many ways we use design to tell our most important stories. Here are three features that caught my eye.

Our World in Data: Visual History of Global Health

The simple slideshow format of this site belies the depth of data presented. While providing some analysis and framing of life expectancy, child mortality, and disease elimination—it encourages exploration of the data by the interactivity of the charts and graphs. The ability to add or subtract country data and toggle between chart and map views (you can click on the above embedded image) allow users to dig deeper and customize the display to their interest.

The effectiveness is in the straightforward presentation and high density of information. It is perfectly suited to the audience it aims to attract.

There are substantial sharing features that provide data sources, downloadable data and images, and links for embedding content in other websites, positioning the site as a reliable resource for the global health community.

Mosaic: Global Health Check

A screenshot of a digital feature titled "Breakthroughs."
The Global Health Check content comes from various sources, including the World Health Organization List of Essential Medicines 2015, Nature Reviews Microbiology, Science Museum, Immunization Action Coalition, and National Cancer Institute. Screenshot: Mosaic.

As with the Visual History of Global Health, Mosaic’s Global Health Check encourages exploration but in a different way. Rather than displaying comprehensive data, a personalized story creates the changes in the world’s health during a lifetime. After entering your birth year, you see a series of data visualizations contrasting the differences in global health between various points in your life and now.

A variety of chart styles makes it visually lively while a restrained color palette creates clear sections and keeps it from becoming disjointed. Animations are used effectively to add depth to data and interactive controls are simple and obvious.

No less rigorous in representing accurate data, sources and notes are available for each visualization but are de-emphasized, making them easy to access without adding distractions.

The effort to make this site mobile-responsive and useful on touch devices is particularly impressive. Clever layout and design make the experience compelling and complete whether viewed on a phone, tablet, or computer.

Global Health NOW: 100 Objects That Shaped Public Health

A screenshot of a digital feature on Global Health NOW's website titled "100 Objects That Shaped Public Health."
Global Health NOW website. Screenshot: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Rather than being data-centric like the previous two sites, the Global Health NOW feature seeks to engage users through a unique navigation experience. On the home page, a grid of images is presented with minimal explanation. Perhaps inscrutable at first, a mouse-over of an image displays a description and a click leads to a page with more detail.

If the grid is overwhelming, a category filter sorts the objects with a slick animation. A text list is also available as well as “previous” and “next” buttons on the object detail pages. Navigating the site reinforces the idea of exploration and allows a random interaction with what seems interesting in the moment.

Some of the objects seem unlikely, which encourages investigation and invites scrolling. American cheese helped shape global health? Is that a sippy cup? While not using charts and graphs, the short descriptions of each object are rich with data and links to online resources. What may have seemed a surprising or perhaps even frivolous selection proves to be thoughtfully chosen and extensively researched.

Friday Think is an occasional series on PATH blog.

During the week we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our feature, Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

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