Data visualized: The world’s refugees over four decades

Published January 13, 2014   |   
Katie Fehrenbacher

To spend just a few minutes experiencing the newly created online data visualization The Refugee Project is to start to comprehend just how enormous, complex, and problematic the ebb and flow of the world’s millions of refugees has been over the past almost half century. That’s the unique power of data visualization, which is an emerging way for designers, developers, media companies and organizations to tell complex and data-rich stories visually.

Developed by design firm Hyperakt and designer Ekene Ijeoma, The Refugee Project takes close to forty years worth of refugee data from The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as world population data from the U.N, and overlays it on an interactive map. The team also mixed in narratives from about 80 individual refugee conflicts (from Rwanda to Afghanistan), and set the whole thing on a yearly timeline.

The result is an experience that enables the viewer to click on a given year, or country, and visually see the flow of refugees from the world’s conflict regions over time — you can see where they came from, where they ended up, how many there were, and what percentage of the country fled. It’s not just educational, it’s also emotional, and beautiful to look at, and at the same time could be the most comprehensive and powerful demonstration of the world’s refugees to date.

Data storytelling

Despite that the demand for, and the field surrounding, these types of data visualizations is growing in this data-rich era, such sophisticated projects, addressing important world issues, are still relatively rare outside of well-funded media outlets. Some groups like DataKind or Pitch Interactive (and its drones project) are pushing the medium forward, but in reality these types of projects take a lot of time and resources, and not many have the data design skills required to produce them.

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