For every person with whom Nicholas Felton had a “meaningful” encounter in 2009, he asked them to answer an online survey about their meeting. The only requisite is that the encounter was face-to-face and substantial enough so that the person could report about his personality and habits. The resulting product of his year of data is compiled in the elegant visualizations of the 2009 Feltron Annual Report. While Felton spends much of his time analyzing and visualizing data for journals and companies, his annual reports, produced since 2005, tackle different research scopes each year. Each one communicates, in a quantitative way, about his personal experience.
The collected data for 2009 ranges from facts to more subjective material, for example, where he went, what he drank and even his frame of mind. In the category, “Mood: An assessment of demeanor”, he projects his temperament during the encounter along a happiness and sadness scale. From his 179 distinct relationships, such as Dentist, Friend/Esteemed Colleague, Statistic, Ex-wife and Grill Master, they reported his state of mind: “Earnestly industrious,” “Unhurried and relaxed,” “Pensive (but not in a lame way)”. Through the Annual Report, we are able to visualize relationships that are deeply personal, yet presented in an objective way.
It’s not surprising that Felton made his first Annual Report in 2005, a year after Facebook and a year before Twitter. Many of us produce and consume endless Internet feeds, tweets and updates, however where does all the data go? Felton investigates this question to an extreme logical end. In the spirit of open-source software, he also welcomes anyone else to use his interface for their own data.
In researching for Talk to Me, we are looking for projects that innovate and address new problems through design. Felton has designed a way to understand the outputs of ubiquitous online culture. He re-imagines facts into elegant visualizations, printing limited edition series that revert to old values of craftsmanship and individuality. The hand-signed and numbered books remind us that while online is one of our new homes, we still connect on a deep emotional level to traditional interfaces.
We are considering the Feltron Annual Report for Talk to Me because it fits our idea of great design: Felton is not only using elegant design to tell an emotional story, but it is also a parody on the corporate Annual Report. By distilling a human being’s emotional state into quantitative information, the visualizations are trying to make sense of how he feels on a given day and along the course of one year. The piece has provoked us to reflect on how we process information.