Work in progress: violent gun deaths in the US

A commission to create graphics around US Gun Violence led to a lot of data processing and some hard design decisions.
Ross Hall Wednesday March 31, 2021
Work in progress: violent gun deaths in the US

This is a concept piece I’m working on around gun crime in the US. The article was supposed to have been an analysis of firearm crime in US, and while it was pulled I thought it worth continuing with the editorial design.

I wanted something that would bring home the human cost of gun deaths. Brainstorming produced the idea of having the names of victims forming the outline of a weapon. Finding the names proved difficult given both timescales and resources, which led to focusing on the affected communities instead. I could find the locations of reported violent deaths.

There were a lot.

When I pulled together the first data set in late March there were over 3,700 incidents and 4,200 victims in 2021. That’s just people who died, not those who were injured.

Trying to include that many locations, even after removing duplicates, was a nightmare in more ways than one. Fortunately I’m a dab hand at using Excel to parse data sources into something usable for design. Even so, at the smallest font size and with duplicate entries removed, the list covered multiple pages. Getting that much information into one graphic was more like a roll-call from hell than a design exercise.

Trimming back the list to just those incidents recorded in March 2021 (over 900) still carries an impact. Given the mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta, it was easy to ignore the many other victims and communities affected by violence. Adding the number of deaths recorded just in March in those communities helps give that context. It also highlights how pervasive the violence can be – Houston recorded 26 deaths in 26 days across more than 20 incidents.

It’s worth remembering this is “short data”. It was pulled from the Gun Violence Archive on 26th March and only covered to the 21st. Past trends suggest more than a thousand incidents are likely, something the design has been stress tested to cover. That I had to do this was unsettling.

My plan with the editorial design was to use the graphic to highlight key points in the article. Mention Boulder, for example, and I would “zoom in” on that part of the graphic. A chart showing the number of victims per incident would use relevant locations to form the bars.

Graphic of a firearm with the names of places where deaths occurred and expanded detail of Boulder, Colorado
Mock up of a graphic to accompany a focus on a specific location or incident.

Unfortunately the article was pulled and the commission cancelled. I’ve built spreadsheets to generate the data from the Gun Violence Archive source, which will make it relatively simple to extract what’s needed and process it. Early in April I’ll revisit the concept and determine whether to finish the work as an infographic.

About Ross @ KobeRoku

I'm Ross Hall and I'm a designer, writer, photographer and the brains behind KobeRoku. You can follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Kobe Roku is my photographic and design studio. This site is a living practical showcase of my work in digital and editorial design and content.

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