Since 2005 Nicholas Felton has designed and published an Annual Report about his year.
The Feltron Annual Reports present meticulously collected data in playful infographics and crisp typography. It is a carefully placed window into Felton’s life.
At least once a semester, I bring my collection of reports into class to introduce the idea of curating the viewer’s expereince. The elegant color choices, the unusual bindings — even the mailing envelopes — all make the printed piece a delicious graphic treat. They are an exciting reminder of how personal work and professional practice can merge, and that even the infographic can be a playground for self expression.
Mr. Felton was kind enough to chat with Graphic Hug about his latest report, and its interactive progeny,Daytum — a website where anyone can “collect, categorize and communicate everyday data.”
GH: I imagine that the Feltron Annual Report was a self-initiated project. What inspired you to make the first version in 2005? (Were there precursors in other forms?)
NF: There were a couple of seeds for the 2005 report. Under the natural inclination at the end of 2004, I made a piece of design I called BEST OF FOUR that summarized my favorite things from the previous year, like my favorite new album and art exhibit and blog. I also sprinkled in a few factoids about the year, like the number of air miles traveled and the most-played song in iTunes. The tidbits that I excavated from the year, definitely influenced the creation of the first ANNUAL REPORT. In a larger sense, I had been searching for a means of content creation to feed personal design projects, and this all came together nicely,
GH: Who did you consider your audience? Has that changed?
NF: When I began the project, I assumed that only friends and family would have any interest in a personal Annual Report of Nicholas Felton. I was pretty startled by the speed with which it spread through the design community, and things got really bizarre when I started receiving emails from bankers who thought it was both fascinating and hilarious. I think my audience continues to be design-centric, but it has certainly been expanding, and awareness of the project continues to grow into corners of the Internet and the world that still amaze me.
GH: How else the project evolved since its conception?
NF: The report has definitely evolved in numerous ways. Primarily, it takes more time to create each year. It’s grown in scale and complexity. The 2008 report began taking a more concept-oriented turn, in that I was interested in learning how many miles I traveled (38,524). I’ve also moved away from the photographic approach of the 2005 report, and not only brought them into print, but discovered that I can recoup my production and shipping costs by selling the printed reports.
GH: How do you decide what information to collect? Do you use Daytum to collect your own data?
NF: I am using Daytum this year for tracking a lot of personal information — but I am experimenting with a different means of collecting this year’s data set that will be revealed with the release of the report.
GH: Interesting! We’ll look forward to seeing how that influences the next report. I think we’ve all been through something that makes us think “well, at least this will make a good story.” Since starting the annual reports, do you experience events with a new lens?
NF: Definitely. When the Secret Service visited the office last year, my first reaction was — this is going in the Annual Report.
GH clarification question: Are you at liberty to divulge why the secret service visited your office?
NF: Yes, nothing too scandalous. I believe that they were looking for a check scammer who had used our office address for some forged documents.
GH: Have you had any revelations about your habits since starting the project?
NF: I haven’t experienced any revelations, but there are some interesting trends. I find that I am drinking less each year, and my musical taste is becoming less adventurous (I know what I like now, and I’m sticking with it). It’s safe to say I’m getting older.
GH: I have to ask: do you ever fudge the numbers?
NF: I don’t fudge the numbers because I have an honest curiosity about the results. If I have to over-estimate a figure, then it’s inaccuracy will bother me and I won’t want to publish it. So I only present information with information that is as accurate as possible.
GH: You also have a rich body of professional work. What kind of interplay do you find between your personal and professional projects?
NF: This has been the greatest fallout from the Annual Report projects. The work that I like to do personally has drawn similar professional projects, and now the two live in symbiosis. The professional challenges help drive me to think about new visualizations and approaches, while the Annual Reports allow me to push the envelope stylistically without the constraints of a client’s opinion. It’s a really great balance.