Category: information design

Total 51 Posts

My 2009 Annual Report — Behind The Scenes

BTW: Referencing My 2009 Annual Report.


  1. Specs. Hardware: Mac Pro / 2.66GHz Quad-Core / 8GB ¶ Software: Excel 2004, Photoshop CS4, After Effects CS4, Final Cut Pro 7.
  2. Workflow. I sketched an outline on paper, then ordered it in Google Docs and turned that into sixty Photoshop compositions. That took about two weeks. Then I sequenced those compositions into a slideshow of still images and synced them in Final Cut Pro to a Creative Commons track. After Effects doesn’t play nicely with music so I spent the next two weeks working deaf, working exclusively off the timecodes from Final Cut Pro. (ie “Okay, the pie graph needs to finish its rotation at 2:41:20.”) The first day I saw it with music was January 31, the same day I posted it.
  3. Music. I’m not saying I did anything fantastic to the music track, but I did have to sync the slides to the rhythm, making adjustments for longer segments (any of the “top five + other” bar graphs, the travel maps), cutting and blending the song so it complemented the content of the video. I am saying that Animoto won’t do this automatically. iMovie won’t do this automatically. And teachers consistently overrepresent the capability of those tools.
  4. Data Sources. I maintained active records in Google Tasks before transferring them to an Excel sheet biweekly which I backed up fastidiously over the course of the year. Perish the possibility I might lose it. ¶ I collected all music records passively through, which became significantly more accurate after I outfitted my car with a 30-pin iPhone cable and began tracking car audio. ¶ I also collected my mobile phone statistics passively through AT&T’s online billing system, which kindly exports data to Excel.


I don’t see any of my students buying this pitch but here it is anyway: I would have had to release this video somewhere in April if I didn’t have a working knowledge of a) the degree measure of angles, b) proportions, c) percents, d) coordinates, e) 3D space, f) modular arithmetic, and g) linear interpolation. I even calculated an integral.

Here’s just one example. You noticed the little animated counters running all throughout the project? Problem: you want the counter to read “0” at 773 frames into the composition and “44651” at 795 frames:

Solution: a linear equation!



  1. Guilt. I watched a continuous 20 days and 23 hours of television and movies. I could slap qualifiers all over that statistic but you’re still talking about nearly a month spent proximate to a flickering light.
  2. Battlestar Galactica. Not worth it.
  3. Guilt II. 18 gallons sounds like kind of a lot of beer when you put it that way.
  4. Margin of Error. I’ll put the average margin of error for the project somewhere below 1%. And I’ll wager the sleep statistics are the worst. I had to remember to take a screenshot of my iPhone’s clock wallpaper twice a day at the two times of the day that I was the least likely to remember to take a screenshot of my iPhone’s clock wallpaper.
  5. 2.5 Minutes. I’m really happy with the length of the piece. That’s, like, 2.4 days per second!
  6. Editing. For every statistic I included there were two I cut. There were albums and songs; incoming calls, outgoing calls, outgoing messages, fastest rising message recipients as well as fastest falling; places where I drank beer, number of people with whom I drank beer; repeat vs. first time movie viewings, number of people with whom I watched movies; plus a host of Twitter statistics and a Wordle visualization of my 2009 text message content which were, predictably, pretty dull. ¶ The most poignant graph that I cut for length was this one, which features both my father’s cancer diagnosis and, relatedly, the fact that I drove the length of the US in one month without leaving California.

    What a strange project.

  7. 2010. It’s been two years and I can’t see quitting this kind of introspection. I’m already anticipating my decade retrospective where I hope I’ll see a lot of huge life changes reflected in microscopic daily statistics. That’ll be great. ¶ My goal for next year is to post my completed annual report video no later than January 1, 2011. I don’t think this is impossible. Andrew Kramer recently composed a convincing tutorial explaining dynamic bar graphs in After Effects, where you just enter the final data and Javascript recomposes the entire project. The trick will be extending that process across an entire video and several different infographics. In any case, I need to publicly throw down this gauntlet.

My 2009 Annual Report

Throughout 2009, I recorded several dozen statistics about a) the pop culture I consumed, b) the people I talked to, c) the beer I drank, d) the places I visited, e) the vehicles I took to those places, and f) the amount of sleep I enjoyed each day. Those statistics spread across several thousand cells of a spreadsheet, which I then condensed and animated into the 2.5-minute video clip embedded below. That process took about a month, all told, which isn’t a ratio I’m proud of, even if I’m happy with the result.

Dan Meyer’s 2009 Annual Report from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

I’ll add a post shortly after this one that will address some technical notes I made throughout the process.

BTW: My 2009 Annual Report – Behind The Scenes

Nicholas Felton’s 2009 Annual Report

Nicholas Felton’s 2009 annual report has already been widely linked. I pass it along, though, with my recommendation that it’s the best of his four reports. He relinquished his usual role as data collector to the friends and acquaintances he met in 2009, asking them to respond to the same web survey and answer questions about Felton’s mood, location, activity, and conversation.

Felton’s technical feat here is astonishing. It’s challenging enough to track a data set in a spreadsheet of your creation, organized according to your own tastes. This year, Felton had to organize and visualize data no matter how his friends decided to submit it. And in spite of that loose chaos he has designed some exceptionally lucid visualizations while also experimenting a bit with form. (He used topographical maps to represent New York instead of his usual cluster plots.) I couldn’t quickly decipher his cover-page infographic but realized eventually how he was graphing the duration of his relationships across time and found the whole thing vivid and melancholy.

Felton stocks the sidebars of every page with his collaborators’ exact reports (“I think it’s funny that Nick carries a backpack.”), which is an affectionate design choice. If his previous work could be described as a staggering act of introspection, this is their equal in extrospection, a study of friends and relationships. I suspect, in ten years, this will be the one he returns to first, and most often.

BTW: See this interview with Nicholas Felton.

Netspeak Won’t Get You A Date

Tom Woodward, coming down on “the arbitrary rules of English”:

I’ve actually listened to teachers brag that they never abbreviate when texting and that they used full and complete punctuation. That pretty much says to me, “The arbitrary ‘rules’ of English are more important than its purpose. Changing styles for different purposes and media doesn’t make sense.” I can’t think of a worse lesson for a student or a worse mind set for a teacher.

Christian Rudder, analyzing over 500,000 contacts on his dating site OkCupid, noting that the same rules Tom scorns score you a date more often than they don’t:

Netspeak, bad grammar, and bad spelling are huge turn-offs. Our negative correlation list is a fool’s lexicon: ur, u, wat, wont, and so on. These all make a terrible first impression. In fact, if you count hit (and we do!) the worst 6 words you can use in a first message are all stupid slang.

The exceptional OkCupid blog is what happens when a bunch of Harvard math students decide to run a dating site. The blog doesn’t cover technical notes, release dates, or any site business at all. Instead, it offers up infographic after infographic pitched directly along my students’ hormonal wavelength.

We’ve picked over the entire blog’s offering, stopping with this astrology-debunking beauty yesterday:

Back when my dad started teaching in dickety-two, you simply couldn’t access this kind of fun so quickly or cheaply. Let’s not squander this.

My #1 and #2 Pick

My top two picks were interchangeable until the very end and my top selection, in the end, reflected my slight preference for minimal design over maximal design.

1. Frieder Knauss

I can add very little to the appreciation circulating on this site except to say that Mr. K manages the hat trick of a) personal retrospection, b) data design, and (the rarity) c) editorial.

That he does this in several thousand fewer pixels than all of his competitors is to his credit, as is the vomit-themed color palette which he somehow sells as an element of his NCLB nausea.

2. Sam Shah

That Sam didn’t place speaks to the overall quality of the entire slate. From fonts to colors to axes and grids, none of his design choices cohere. Yet he tosses them all on the same wall with a stuffed buck and the whole thing looks like some kind of genius aneurysm. The herkyjerky, undistributed, unaligned tabs on his “Blog Hits” slide are a particular high point for me.