Where do you find your inspiration?
From traveling and reading. From modernist design, nature, math, patterns, geometry, science and music. In obsessiveness, language, humor, little moments, simplicity and elegance.
Who can design my data?
Here are some of the most talented people I know:
What are your key considerations when designing information graphics?
My chief concern is that the finished graphic be highly scannable and easily digested. For me, this means the elimination of complicated keys and fiddly connections between labels and items. Relationships should be as direct and unadorned as possible and free of unnecessary design flourishes.
Where did your interest in charts and maps and data come from?
I don’t know exactly when my love for charts began. I have a cherished book from my childhood called “Comparisons” that holds hundreds of pages of charts and measurements and lists of data about the fastest cars and tallest waterfalls and largest animals which certainly exerted an influence on me. I was enamored with science in my youth, and the piles of National Geographic in the house further supported this passion as I grew up. I think that having a scientific mind (and a deep curiosity) explains why I am so fixated on learning the number of coffees I had in a year, or how many different types of animal I ate. Organizing this information and exploring the unknown is deeply satisfying and comforting to me.
What is your design process?
I like to start by determining the simplest way to communicate the data I’ve been given. Things get complicated very quickly, so there’s no use in starting with an intricate base visualization if it needs to have numerous labels or additional dimensions of data applied. I will use Illustrator or Processing (for more complex data) to create an initial rendering of the information. With Processing, I’ve developed an arsenal of graphing tools that will quickly allow me see the shape of the data I’m working with. I can then take the pdf output and style it with either Adobe Illustrator or InDesign.
How did the Feltron Annual Reports get started?
In 2004, I designed a year-end report called “Best of 04” that included a few numerical details about the year, like the number of postcards sent and airmiles traveled. The following year (2005), I created the first Annual Report out of information drawn from my memory, calendar, photos and last.fm data. This segmented the year into sections like Travel, Photography, Music and Books which I thought would be primarily interesting to only friends and family. Surprisingly, the report was as popular among people who had never met me as with those who knew me intimately and a result, I have dedicated increasing amounts of time to documenting and charting the passage of each year.
How has this project (and the burden of recording all this behavior) changed how you live?
The project has always been structured to record my natural behaviors, rather than influence them, which is why I refrain from tallying the results until the end of the year. Of course, recording other metrics with Daytum.com
starts to create feedback loops. If you can see the miles you walk daily starting to fall, then there’s an impetus to walk more. Thankfully it only takes a few minutes a day of recording to create an extremely detailed data set of the year, and for the most part, I don’t let it burden my activities.
Do you ever fudge the numbers?
Nope. I don't guestimate because I have an honest curiosity about the outcome. Once my confidence in a number slips, its inaccuracy bothers me and I won’t publish it. The numbers I use have to be rooted in a strong methodology, and evaluated in a repeatable manner.
Do you ever find it a bit scary that complete strangers know so much about you?
Perhaps it should bother me more, but it's curated knowledge and they’ve only learned what I’d like them to know about me. I’ve offered a lot of insight into my interests and habits and some nice factoids, but I don't believe that it provides complete sense of who I am, or what I’m like. In fact people that know my work well have the tendency to tell me that I’m not at all like what they expected. So while a reader may have an intimate knowledge of my favorite band, the broader personal strokes of my life are missing.
How do you decide which data to gather over the course of the year?
I tend to discover things in the course of the year that I wish I had been tracking from the beginning, and they are added to next year’s list of items to-track. I also tend to think up fun or interesting ways to manipulate the data I am collecting throughout the course of the year. As the project has evolved, I have tried find new vantage-points on the year. 2008 was focused on distance, 2009 was concerned with the recollections of the people I spent time with and 2010 is centered on time.