Visualizing a New Tool in the Fight Against COVID-19

Posted inDesign News
Thumbnail for Visualizing a New Tool in the Fight Against COVID-19

The vital nature of data has come into focus during the COVID-19 pandemic—and Giorgia Lupi and her collaborators at Pentagram and beyond have been perpetually offering a lens through which to view and understand it.

They have redesigned fellow data aficionado Andrew Cuomo’s ubiquitous PowerPoint slides. They’ve launched Happy Data to bring an infusion of positivity to our feeds. They’ve infused figures with life—and, well, that’s kind of at the heart of what has been driving Lupi for years.

Yesterday, Lupi released a passion project created with her team at Pentagram, and Accurat. The group partnered with the COVID-19 Technology Task Force—a volunteer body that explores and proposes potential life-saving solutions to policymakers—to produce a data visualization showcasing how tech can greatly assist contact tracing. Traditionally, contact tracing is a labor-intensive process that involves manually calling all of the people who may have come into contact with someone who has the virus.

The overarching strategy takes the form of an app dubbed Health Department Exposure Notification (EN). Privacy has been a concern for many when it comes to contact tracing, so EN does its work without utilizing GPS or recording individual locations. Rather, when users of the app come in proximity of each other, the app makes a private and secure note and establishes a “beacon,” and later cross-references a user’s data against the rest of the beacons to see if you’ve potentially been exposed to the virus. People can thus self-isolate earlier, and halt the spread.

It’s easy to get wordy in describing the complex concept—and that’s where Pentagram and Accurat come in.

The visualization needed to be memorable, visually arresting and immediately understandable for busy policymakers in government who were the Covid-19 Technology Task Force’s intended audience, the crew writes. The design team began by creating a hypothetical scenario of disease spread, and placing that scenario on a vertical timeline. Three undulating ribbons serve as memorable and accessible metaphors for the primary actors in the scenario: an infected person who installs the exposure notification app, a person who becomes infected and does not have the app, and then a person who self-quarantines as a result of receiving a notification that they may have come in contact with a sick person.

A major goal of the visualization was to connect this complicated and often opaque technological process to real-life behavior and events. Small dots are used to represent other individuals who may have been in contact with the three primary ribbons, and whether they’ve become infected. Captions throughout add further narrative context, clearly underlining how exposure notification can save lives.

As the virus continues to surge, it’s hard to argue against embracing every possible solution at our disposal. And now, at least, one of them isn’t hard to visualize.