Outpacing Pandemics

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

At a glance

A smart, startling interactive data visualization to support Bill Gates’ presentation at the World Economic Forum in 2017. The subject? Disease outbreaks and the vaccines that combat them.

Outpacing Pandemics image

Speed kills

It makes sense, right? The faster a vaccine can be developed, the more quickly it start saving lives.

Here’s the problem. Vaccine development is… extremely… slow. And pandemics don’t have a speed limit.

Graphic of Hong Kong flu data visualization

How slow is slow?

How slow is vaccine development? Very. Very. Slow.

The vaccine for typhoid fever was first tested back in 1896. It only came into safe, effective use from 1994. Nearly a century later!

That’s longer than most lifetimes, regardless of whether you were lucky enough to avoid typhoid.

Graphic of Typhoid fever data visualization

Breakthroughs on outbreaks

But breakthroughs in science and technology mean that, within the decade, it may be possible to develop vaccines much more swiftly. In weeks rather than months or years.

Illustration of vaccine production

How fast is fast?

To show the extremely complex process of vaccine development, we worked hard to break it into simple steps for people: Code, Validate, Produce, Distribute, Adapt.

We included this as an illustrated ‘chapter’ in the piece to give context about vaccine development in the future.

Graphic showing an Ebola outbreak

Time on our side

Using a split-screen device on a timeline, users could easily compare the frightening rate of outbreaks directly against the much slower-moving vaccine development.

We went back to 1899 for our first outbreak data, plotting nearly 70 outbreaks, right up to 2016.



Outpacing Pandemics graphic with magnifying glass
Outpacing Pandemics graphic showing fast-moving pandemic

Chasing Ebola, catch the flu

To bring home just how many lives could be saved with the earliest possible introduction of a vaccine, we gave users two powerful outbreak scenarios to explore: Ebola and flu.

We worked closely with experts at the Gates Foundation, the University of Florida and the Institute for Disease Modeling to ensure that we represented realistic hypothetical scenarios.

Animation of vaccine for flu outbreaks
Animation of vaccine comparison for Ebola outbreak Animation about developing new vaccines

Contagious promos

We created punchy animated promos for the Gates Foundation to build buzz on social media.

These super-short looping visualizations were designed specifically to entice the audience to engage, click and find out more.

Photo of Bill Gates at Davos WEF 2017

Debuting in Davos, gracing the Guggenheim

After Bill Gates’ much-talked-about presentation of Outpacing Pandemics at Davos, the piece went on display in the Guggenheim Museum. 

With the visualization available on tablets, people were free to explore the stories and soak up the details.

Screengrab of Bill Gates' Twitter post about Outpacing Pandemics