Design

Personal Data Is Beautiful in this Graphic Designer’s Year-End Reports

One man's year in review in stunning charts and graphs.
22 December 2015, 7:13pm
All images courtesy the artist

In 2005, graphic designer Nicholas Felton took 3,754 photos. In 2008, he took the subway 545 times. In 2009, he was 73.9% happy. “My Annual Report series is an attempt to graphically retell a year of my life using graphs, maps, and statistics,” he explains. After 10 years of increasingly sophisticated data collecting—using nearly every method imaginable he says—Felton recently released his final annual report, an account of the year 2014.

We checked in with him recently to learn more about his decade of data collecting—and, as could be expected, he sent back some detailed answers.

The project started with the year 2005, “a year filled with travel to new places, abundant photography, great meals and new music.” To highlight the year’s events, he “started digging,” compiling data from his calendar, notebook, photos, and music that was logged on services like Last.fm. “The more I searched, the more I realised that my year could be reconstructed from these records. With this foundation, I began playing with elements from data viz, photo albums, travelogues, best-of lists and Harper’s Index. What emerged was the 2005 Annual Report.”

After sending the project to a few friends, it gained traction, appearing on various design blogs and generating interest from strangers. “Finding an audience for this experiment amplified my curiosity and ambition, which has in turn increased the audience, and this feedback cycle has pushed the scope of the project each year since.”

From year to year, the type of data being collected and the collection methods grew more complex. In 2007, he tracked all the New York City streets he walked along, keeping diligent notes on his phone and later digitising the routes. In 2009, after four years of self-tracking, he “became interested in outsourcing the job” to the people he interacted with. “They were asked to describe my mood, our conversation, what we ate or drank, where we went...This approach helped me gain a sense of my outward appearance and allowed me to compare this feedback to my sense of self.”

In 2011, he published a biennial report, drafting a cross-comparison of the years 2010 and 2011. The following year he commissioned an iPhone app, Reporter, which pinged him at random intervals and prompted him to complete a survey to better capture social connections and other, “more nuanced aspects” of quotidian life (a commercial version has since been released for iPhone users). In 2013, the theme of the year was communication: He collected records for over 12,000 conversations he had, online and offline, from January to December.

The 2014 report was released in the fall of 2015, taking nearly a year to complete. It is Felton’s last edition. In addition to the obvious time constraints posed by the endeavor, Felton says he feels like he’s reached the limits of what he can reasonably record. “At this point, I don’t think I have left much that can be quantified unexplored,” he concludes.

To learn more about Nicholas Felton’s annual reports, go here.

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