SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Illustrated by Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins at the CDC using Autodesk 3ds Max
As you probably know, this is the coronavirus. More specifically, this is a carefully considered Autodesk illustration of the coronavirus by Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins. The team of biomedical illustrators have worked for 14 years to make visible several infamous health world villains, such as ebola, anthrax, gonorrhea and now the coronavirus. The team, along with over 50 designers at the CDC, have been hard at work spreading the message about coronavirus since the early days of the crisis.
By giving these major diseases form and identity, biomedical designers make the otherwise terrifying source of a pandemic like this one tangible, and on some level, understandable for the many. While certain politicians, such as the US president, continue to incorrectly suggest the coronavirus is invisible, the extent to which scientists are able to see and understand the virus is a clear indication of how well equipped we are, technologically, to cope with this pandemic. We are only limited by how well we can distribute information, images, and resources. Falsely assigning ambiguity to the coronavirus can breed potentially life-threatening misinformation. By widely distributing clear images, and legibly designed information about the coronavirus, anybody can help to bolstering public understanding and public health.
Free Use COVID Image Resource(Courtesy of the NIAID):
Eckert and Higgins' now ubiquitous image of the coronavirus features a shallow focus along with shadows on its surface, to give the illusion of space, depth, and physicality for viewers. A grave red and gray color scheme gives the virus an identityas something to be taken seriously. Designed not to express the purely empirical, but rather to make the virus readable, accessible and understandable as an entity. In these aesthetic considerations, Eckert and Higgins approached the coronavirus in much of the same way that graphic designer would a brand. (Read more about the design process here.)
image credit: CDC
In addition to this illustration there have been many images of the virus taken via electron microscope. Just imagine if we couldn't see what was causing this pandemic. Imagine if there were no electron microscopes, no sophisticated modeling software to render the image of the virus. One might refer to the terror that small pox unleashed upon Native Americans, or the black death for Europeans. While a disease well understood is frightening on its own, an unknown plague that kills whole communities of people is far worse and compounds crisis.
Aren't you happy your newsfeed isn't filled with pics like this?
The full portrait of the coronavirus is colored by a multiplicity of images. Overwhelmed hospitals, a surplus of infection-rate data graphics, and the countless stories we're all reading everyday from the news or people we know. Much like global warming and the climate crisis, we have all sorts of visual evidence of the problems we face and there really isn't any excuse to say something can't be seen, or isn't certain anymore. While it is tempting to look away from the thing that is unpleasant, scary, violent, alien, deadly, unfamiliar, big, overwhelming, it doesn't change the fact that it is there. Looking at it, confronting the picture or the illustration or the data visualization of that big problem is the first step to actually dealing with it. As seen with Eckert and Higgins' illustration, designers can be a key part of facilitating that confrontation and hopefully making it more manageable for everyone.