From ARCADE Issue 31.4Part of a series of posts sharing infographics and data visualizations highlighted the issue feature, "Designing Data." Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

Today we look at an infographic communicating the loss of life in one year during the Iraq war. This chart is part of an annual series created by the Brooklyn design firm mgmt. during 2005–2011. —ARCADE

Iraq War Infographic


“A Year in Iraq”

Design: Alicia Cheng, Partner, mgmt.
Research: Adriana Lins de Albuquerque, PhD candidate,
Political Science, Columbia University.

Originally published in The New York Times’ op-ed section on Sunday, 6 January 2008, this "op-chart" represents a journalistic approach to documenting the Iraq War, examining the dates, quantities, nationalities and ranks of military fatalities.

Iraq War Infographic Detail 1

The chart is a modern version of the pictographic diagrams developed in the 1930s by Viennese social scientist Otto Neurath. Neurath worked closely with German designer Gerd Arntz to develop more than four thousand pictograms used to communicate complex social and economic facts to Viennese citizens—with the hope of inspiring political reform. The resulting graphics are known as the “Vienna method of visual statistics,” or ISOTYPE (International System of TYpographic Picture Education). Neurath believed that ISOTYPE charts were accessible regardless of language barriers because all information was represented visually, using repeated symbols in a “ruler” format.

Iraq War Infographic Detail 2

As with other forms of journalism – print or online articles, broadcast news, etc. – journalistic information graphics should strive to truthfully and accurately inform audiences. This is particularly important because data visualizations carry a particular empiricist authority; they often appear to be self-evident representations of inarguable facts.

The importance of ethics and integrity in the design of information and data graphics has been highlighted by two important leaders in the field: Juan Antonio Giner, founder and president of Innovation International Media Consulting Group, and Alberto Cairo, infographic director of Época, a weekly news magazine in Brazil.

In response to the publication of inaccurate information graphics covering Osama Bin Laden’s death, these two journalists developed a set of guidelines to ensure that editors follow appropriate standards for journalism in the presentation of infographics. These standards, which were originally published by the Harvard University Nieman Watchdog Project have been signed and endorsed by 106 journalists and design experts from 27 countries.

Six Rules for Infographics

1. An infographic is, by definition, a visual display of facts and data. Therefore, no infographic can be produced in the absence of reliable information.

2. No infographic should include elements that are not based on known facts and available evidence.

3. No infographic should be presented as being factual when it is fictional or based on unverified assumptions.

4. No infographic should be published without crediting its source(s) of information.

5. Information graphics professionals should refuse to produce any visual presentation that includes imaginary components designed to make it more “appealing” or “spectacular.” Editors must refrain from asking for graphics that don’t stick to available evidence.

6. Infographics are neither illustrations nor “art.” Infographics are visual journalism and must be governed by the same ethical standards that apply to other areas of the profession.