“No graphic in human history has saved so many lives in Africa and Asia,” says NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof about an infographic in a ‘97 Times article that spurred Bill and Melinda Gates to take action on public health.

in september i traveled with bill gates to africa to look at his work fighting aids there. while setting the trip up, it emerged that his initial interest in giving pots of money to fight disease had arisen after he and melinda read a two-part series of articles i did on third world disease in January 1997. until then, their plan had been to give money mainly to get countries wired and full of computers.

bill and melinda recently reread those pieces, and said that it was the second piece in the series, about bad water and diarrhea killing millions of kids a year, that really got them thinking of public health. Great! I was really proud of this impact that my worldwide reporting and 3,500-word article had had. But then bill confessed that actually it wasn’t the article itself that had grabbed him so much—it was the graphic. It was just a two column, inside graphic, very simple, listing third world health problems and how many people they kill. but he remembered it after all those years and said that it was the single thing that got him redirected toward public health.

No graphic in human history has saved so many lives in africa and asia.

The piece says that Jim Perry, a veteran graphics editor, produced the chart. Too bad the actual graphic isn’t shown though. It’d be interesting to see. Update: The chart is below (source).


Contemporary graphics specialists
In the same piece, Steve Duenes, graphics director for The Times, lists some of the departments top influences (other than Edward Tufte). Includes some interesting links for you infographers (?) out there:

There are other contemporary graphics specialists who have influence here, including John Grimwade, who started at The London Times and now works at Condé Nast. John has produced terrific diagrams for travel stories along with other gems. And there’s Nigel Holmes, who spent a long time at Time magazine. His graphics are infused with wit, and he brings a a sense of humor to what might otherwise be a clinical field of statistical figures. There are computer scientists like Ben Shneiderman at the University of Maryland and Martin Wattenberg at IBM whose visualizations and interactive applications have set an extremely high bar for data-rich presentations.

And there are older sources of influence and inspiration like the graphics done in Fortune magazine in the 1940’s, and “Powers of Ten,” a short film by Charles and Ray Eames probably influences every New York Times map that adjusts its scale to zoom in. Of course, there are other artists whose work may not be tied to statistical data, but who take imaginative leaps with maps, grids, color and connections, and they exert a little pull. Saul Steinberg, Sol LeWitt and Mark Lombardi come to mind, but there are others.

diagram A diagram by John Grimwade.

Related: Designing “in the pocket” [SvN]