Mona Chalabi, Data Sketch, portfolio

Mona Chalabi, Data Sketch, portfolio

Organisation: The Guardian (United States)

Publication Date: 04/03/2017


Size of team/newsroom:small


I find some of the trends in data visualization today quite worrying. The hard and fast shapes don’t convey enough of the uncertainty around statistics, the computer generated images don’t sufficiently explain the role of the humans who created them and the heavy emphasis on interactivity sometimes demands too much of readers who aren’t specialists. As an industry insider I find these complex interactives impressive but as a reader (especially a reader whose family wants to be informed but speaks English as a second language) I worry that these interactives aren’t informing the people who need it most. They make impressive leaps forward but sometimes leave the general public behind while doing so. I want my data visualizations to remind readers of a time when numbers weren’t daunting or disinteresting. The idea was to draw data in a way that looks familiar – sketches that are as accessible as cartoons but convey a statistic most people assume would be inaccessible to them. The illustrations are unapologetically simple, sometimes silly but always accurate. Graph paper reminds people of a time when they didn’t dislike numbers. I remember getting my compass and set square out of my pencil case and enjoying the act of drawing and problem-solving. But by the time I was 16, like so many other students, I no longer got any pleasure out of maths.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

I decided to use Instagram as the platform for sharing these data visualizations for a couple of reasons. It’s free (links can be shared even with those who don’t have an account), has over 400 million active users and appeals to a much younger demographic than many mainstream publications. It’s also a very democratic platform in that the comments beneath the caption are an integral part of the site’s design – people are able to ask me questions, suggest alternative sources and say whether they understood the drawing or not. That direct conversation makes me a better journalist. By drawing data, I hope to convey some of the uncertainty around statistics. Looking at the sketches, it’s impossible to forget that a human, not a computer was responsible for making decisions about which data to collect and how to convey it.

Technologies used for this project:

Pencil and paper! Excel Adobe Illustrator Adobe Indesign
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