Infographic of the Day: A Stunning 3-D Chart of Afghan Casualties

Plume Graph is both a moving tribute to the civilian dead in Afghanistan, and one of the most beautiful experiments in data-viz we’ve seen in recent times.

Infographic of the Day: A Stunning 3-D Chart of Afghan Casualties

We’re betting that the headline above will turn most people away and that’s a crying shame, because today’s infographic is stunning, beautiful, and incredibly moving. Only once in a blue moon do web-based infographics rise to this level.


Created by designer George Michael Brower (who by day works at Google’s Creative Lab) and John Bohannon, a molecular biologist and a journalist, the chart shows civilian casualties from the war in Afghanistan. But it does so using a “plume graph” — that is, a map where the 2-D view shows a slice of data, and the vertical axis shows that data evolving over time.


[Click to view larger]

Thus, each horizontal “level” you see above represents deaths in various parts of the country in a single given month; the color coded bubbles show the cause of death. These levels in turn are stacked up, so that the “plumes” show how casualties have piled up over time.

What we found almost painful to watch is the way that you can zoom in and out of the graph — thus, from afar, this chart simply looks like a map topped by a mass of dots. But once you zoom in closer and closer, the bubbles resolve themselves into individual dots — in other words, single deaths, whose human toll can’t be ignored. As Bohannon writes, “These data represent an ongoing tragedy. But we shouldn’t look away. Without such data we can never know the true cost of the war.”

Check out the interactive version here.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.