When you’re reading about historical events and you come across figures like the number of people who died in the Battle of Gettysburg (165,620 btw), your mind sort of hears it but doesn’t fully compute the data. It’s just a number, it has no relation to anything, it’s abstract. But how about if you compared that number to your followers on Twitter or your Facebook friends? Would that give it some perspective? Well, that’s the hope of design agency BERG and the BBC’s latest project How Many Really.
A sister project to their How Big Really—which overlayed physical dimensions of news or historic events with your local area—the project compares the number of people who experienced an event with those in your social network. So you either sign into your Facebook or Twitter account (or if you’re not into that, you can just enter a figure, like the amount of people in your office). It then creates a square showing your friends/followers and zooms out to give you a bigger square that relates to, say, the number of people who died in the Battle of Gettysburg or any of the other questions proposed on the site—giving you a visual reference that helps you digest the numbers and give them a human perspective.
The questions take in all manner of subjects from slavery to entertainment to disasters, war, civilizations and diseases. On their blog BERG discuss how the mechanics of the visualization owe a lot to Charles and Ray Eames’ influential film Powers of 10 (above), which depicts the relative scale of the universe by zooming out from the micro to the macro and back again.