This is very high level visual map of Syria at night (credit to @nytgraphics for the image) . The left part of image is just before the civil war began, the right part of the image shows the current state of the civil war in Syria.
The visual aims to draw a comparison between life before the civil war and the current state of Syria. It also highlights the impact that the civil war has had on the inhabitants of Syria. The difference is evident when the right side shows reduced human activity at night.
1. Robustness – 50-50/Maybe.
In terms of understanding the context of the users, the visual assumes that people know about the civil war and the conflict in Syria. So it may not be as “self-explanatory” for someone that has no context of the Syrian civil war.
To experiment this, I performed an interview with a middle-aged couple in regards to this visual. This couple was unaware of the Syrian conflict, so they fit my profile very well. Here is a quick paraphrase of said interview:
Couple: “It looks like there is a clear difference in human activity in Syria between March 2012 and December 2014.”
Me: “What about the visual makes you say that?”
Couple: “Well, there are less lights on the December 2014 side of the map than the March 2012 side.”
Me: “Why do you think there are less ‘lights’ in the after map?”
Couple: “Well, it’s because people no longer could be living there. There could have been issues with electricity. People could have died.”
Me: “What could have caused the absence of so many people?”
Couple: “There could have been several causes. There could have been a natural calamity. There could have been war.”
So, it looks like the interview served its purpose. If people dig a little deeper and do something like the 5 why’s analysis (which is what I did in the interview above – well maybe 3 why’s :D) – they could arrive at the conclusion themselves.
2. Type of Visual – Yes
A map of Syria is a very good visual to use, since the author is attempting to explain the difference in residency before and after the Syrian civil war.
3. Getting rid of Clutter – Yes
There is virtually no clutter. All the image is satellite image at night of Syria, which effectively represents a data map of all the human activity still in the country.
4. Drawing Attention – Yes
It definitely draws the attention of the user. If the user already knows about Syrian Civil War, they will understand the gravity of the impact that it has had on the inhabitants of Syria in just a year and a half. If the user is unaware of the conflict, it will pique their curiosity on why the human activity has reduced so drastically in such a short period of time.
5. Story – 50-50/Maybe
It gets across one thing really well. Something happened that drastically reduced the human population in Syria in just a matter of 21 months. But it doesn’t exactly say what that something is.
Exploratory or Explanatory
The visual is both exploratory and explanatory. It is explanatory in that it attempts to visualize activity of inhabitants using a map of Syria. But it also is exploratory as it guides the user to question “Why?” or “What is the root cause?”, especially if they are unaware of the Syrian conflict.
In conclusion, I would suggest an enhancement to the image to completely tell the story. At the top of the image, replacing “Syria at night” with “Syria at night before the civil war (March 2012) and now (December 2014)” would tell the complete story of the image.