[This is a guest post by Ben Powell*, telling us the story behind his project ‘I Am Who I Am Because of Everyone‘.]
Infographics. It really has become a bit of a buzz word. In the past few years we’ve seen a mass splurge of information transformed into easily digestible visualisations. There are so many of them out there nowadays that there are even infographics about infographics. Statistics are no longer just mind-numbing figures on a page, but vibrant and engaging visuals. It’s fantastic to see so many people interacting with things they normally wouldn’t even glance at; but what happens when you try quantify and visualise something that isn’t quantifiable? When you take something intangible and make it tangible? This question was the birth of my project.
When I began the journey of final year as a graphic design student, I too was drawn in by the popularity of the infographic. At this point data visualisation had really started to take off, and the work of designers like Nicholas Feltron and Stephanie Posavec had really caught my attention. I was even lucky enough to have input from both designers as my project progressed, meeting Nicholas on a trip to New York and having Stephanie as a part time tutor at university. However, despite these inspirational meetings, my research still hadn’t developed further than my topic – people. I knew I wanted to visualise something about humanity, but I was taking a very linear approach; looking for facts and figures that I could turn into some form of print piece. Not exactly the excitement or originality I was aiming for.
It was only whilst watching a tv advert that I had my ‘lightbulb’ moment. The advert was for the mobile phone network, Orange . The advert takes the viewer through all the people that affected the narrator’s life, showing how the combination of all those people and shared experience piece together who he is as a person. The ad closes with the line ‘I am who I am, because of everyone’. This instantly became the basis of my project and also the title.
Once I had the foundations for the project, I began thinking about all the different people who had had an impact on my life, both positive and negative. From old school friends, to teachers, to work colleagues and family, I attempted to literally list literally all the people who have touched my life in some way . Once I had this long list of people, I hit another road block. How could I quantify and visualise this information? I began researching how other information visualisations recorded ‘effect’ and this lead me to earthquake diagrams.
(image top: list of all the people who had a significant effect on my life. image bottom: an earthquake diagram measures effect by using rings)
My project began to gain momentum at this point, and I started to consider the different ways in which I could use this concept of recording effect, on my list of people. Taking further inspiration from the natural world, I ended up using a similar concept to that of the visually determining the age of trees. Each ring became a year of effect from that person, and the thickness of each ring denoted the strength of impact that year had on my life. At this point I also decided I wanted to show the connections between different people in order to create a spider web of the people in my life, not only connecting with me, but also each other. This resulted in my initial visualisation
From this initial mock up, my infographic began to evolve quite rapidly. I decided to use colour as a means of representing different emotions, with the warmer palette being positive emotions, and the cooler palette being negative emotions. The links between people also became important, with dotted lines showing relationships that no longer exist due to death or the end of a relationship, and solid repressing relationships that still exist.
I wanted the layout of the diagram to be unpredictable and natural, with no particular order other than the spider web of groupings that had formed. I think that this helped represent the unpredictable way in which we meet people and the way in which they affect our lives. The only real order to the layout revolved around time and how far away the people are from the centre. This shows the effect those people are having on my life now; the closer to the centre, the closer we are at present.
The final outcome consisted of an interactive piece as well as a print piece, which involved being able to zoom in on the diagram, select which emotions, years, and groupings you wish to see, and also hover over each person to get a brief description of our relationship. This added a further layer to what had become quite an intricate display of intangible information. Below are the images of the resulting infographic:
*Ben Powell is an up and coming Digital Designer based in Sheffield. Since graduating in 2011, he has worked with several multi-national clients and seen his work published in Computer Arts and various design books and blogs. Aside from working as a digital designer, Ben is a passionate creative under the alias of gogetcreative, creating everything from short films to designer vinyl toys.