Three years ago I was lucky enough to discover The Feltron Annual Report, a beautifully designed and wonderfully idiosyncratic catalogue of one man's life during the previous year. I purchased a hard copy of the 2006 Annual Report, and have been a huge fan of Felton's work ever since.
This past year, I got to work with Felton on some stuff for Undercurrent. And as a result of Felton's new methodology, I actually got to contribute to this year's report. After every encounter Felton had, he would hand the person a business card invitation with a unique code and a url, where they would go to fill out a form to record the details of their meeting with Felton.
Last week Felton released the new 2009 edition.
I think it's his best one, yet. I highly recommend doing yourself the favor of purchasing a hard copy.
I dropped Felton an email, and he was generous enough to answer a few questions. (Thanks to my co-workers and fellow Feltron fans Bud Caddell and Clay Parker Jones for contributing some of these.)
Your Annual Report must take an incredible amount of time and effort. Why do you do it? What's the most rewarding thing about it? What's the most challenging part?
It is a pretty time-consuming project, but it's also my favorite part of the year. The project evolved from earlier attempts to draw content for personal design projects from my daily activities… but was encouraged and fueled by bloggers and fellow designers commenting on how much they enjoyed it. Today it has a number of facets: research and development, professional self-promotion, personal curiosity, as well as it's own incredible momentum. Ultimately, keeping the endeavor fresh is the toughest part, but I am thrilled that (to date) the directions I have explored keep finding favor with an audience.
This year, instead of recording all of the data yourself, you asked everyone you interacted with to fill out a survey about your time together. Why the new format? How did it meet your expectations? How did it surprise you?
There have always been questions about my behavior that I have felt unqualified to track. My mood is one of those qualitative traits that I would rather not judge for myself, and the reporting system I devised provided a less biased way of recording it. Overall I was interested in how others see me, and what is memorable about an encounter with me. Ultimately, we all have our own self-image, but your public persona is how other people see you, and what they remember and tell others. This was what I hoped to record, evaluate and communicate. Of course, it has it's limitations. I didn't find that anyone recorded their dissatisfaction. I presume that if we had a negative encounter, that person was not interested in telling me my faults.
One of the most surprising things was how high the response rate was. Many of my friends were extremely committed to the project and recorded nearly all of our encounters in exacting detail. It even became a part of the routine of our outings… and is a little missed in 2010.
As a result of your new approach, this year's data was much more qualitative than in past years. Can you tell me about the tools and method you used to parse the data for this year's report?
In order to quantify all the responses, I had to essentially transcribe each entry into tags that I could sort and filter. For each question, I would run through the responses and extract the pertinent information… the things I ate or drank, where we went, the topics we discussed. Everything was reduced to a tag with as much specificity as provided.
Here's an example of what was submitted for a food entry:
"some sort of entree along with a beet from the beet salad, a turnip from the side of turnips and strawberry rhubarb and some other dessert"
I could determine that YES, food was consumed, there was a SALAD an ENTREE a DESSERT, and that the VEGETABLES BEET, TURNIP and RHUBARB were consumed along with the FRUIT STRAWBERRY.
Once everything is transcribed in this way, I can tally the results, and look at the patterns over the course of the year.
How has this project (and the burden of recording all this behavior) changed how you live?
Well, 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. But truthfully, it only takes a few minutes a day of recording to create a pretty detailed data set of the year, and for the most part, I don't let it burden my activities.
This is a great example of a project that brings together personal and professional passions. What makes projects like these worthwhile? And what advice would you have for anyone considering their own project?
The beauty of the project for me is the virtuous cycle it creates between the personal and professional. The more annual reports I create, the more work of this type comes my way, and the more data visualization work I create, the better my annual reports become.
I made plenty of personal projects before I found one that resonated with an audience. I would say that you have to keep plugging away until you find something that sticks and that a small passionate audience can quickly swell into something larger and more significant once you have a toehold.
and...What's your favorite typeface?
That's the toughest question of the bunch. I typically have a compressed grotesque, a serif and sans that are in favor. Heroic has been a go-to compressed face for several years, while Hoefler Text and Futura are old standbys that would certainly make a desert island list.