There's so much bad news about global heating and the extinction of wildlife, that it can be difficult to communicate the subject in a way that penetrates the collective fatigue. But occasionally, a creative idea can stand out, and this is one that's still getting attention online years after it was devised.
Josh Smith created a series of computer-generated images of endangered species using the same number of pixels as the numbers of the species that remain in existence. The closer to extinction, the fewer pixels and the more abstract the edited image becomes (see our pick of the best photo editing software).
Every Pixels is one animal. The more pixelated the image, the closer it is to extinction."
In Smith's project, an image of an Asian elephant looks like a low resolution photo but is still clearly recognisable since there remain between 40,000 and 50,000 of them. But critically endangered species like the Amur leopard become impossible to identify through the abstraction since there are only 60 of them left.
The project was inspired by a 2008 campaign for WWF Japan called Population by pixel (opens in new tab). Created by Hakuhodo C&D / Tokyo with Nami Hoshino, Yoshiyuki Mikami. the campaign featured just four billboards, each showing an endangered species (Panda, Ethiopian Wolf, Japanese Golden Eagle and Cross River Gorilla)
Smith (opens in new tab) automated the process to apply it to many more species by scraping the Animal Planet endangered animals list. He took high-resolution photographs and pixelating them in post-production to use approximate number of pixels as the number of each species left in existence.
The fact that Smith's work continues to capture people's attention on social media today speaks for the ingenuity and impact of the original campaign, and its ability to capture beauty and vulnerability through digital work. The technique also turns photographs into a kind of infographic, without the need for much more design intervention (see our pick of the best infographic makers).