A Chat with Nicholas Feltron


I had a great opportunity to chat with Nicholas Feltron today about tracking, data, labels, design, and the future of personal data. Nicholas is known for his awesome personal annual reports. With such a keen sense in information design and personal data,  I was honored to chat with him. http://feltron.com

Nicholas was nice enough to review my midterm presentation. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

FORM: Our talk helped expand my thinking. We talked about the social features of the Nike + system and what the experience could be if my displays were placed in an office, where coworkers could create healthy competition. He encouraged me to revisit my design that allows for multiple displays or multiple points of data. There are two ways to do this: multiple displays, or, one display cycling through different data sources.  I’m considering going back to the honeycomb design from my first sketch as it lends itself easily to tiles allowing multiple displays to fit together. Nicholas liked the bar graph design and suggested that that too could be a display for multiple users or multiple pieces of data. He termed that design to be more universal.

My initial sketch for my thesis.

My initial sketch for my thesis.

LABELS: The next step in my design process will be finding a solution that allows the user to acknowledge the type of data that is being displayed. Do I mirror the way the app already portrays data (like the Nike +) or do I have more freedom to display the data in a new way? Do I need one physical design per data type or should I strive for something truly universal? I remembered a note that I had made earlier in my notebook:

A display:

  • Tells the TIME
  • Tells the PROGRESS
  • Tells the SUCCESS
  • Tells the DIRECTION
  • Tells the AMOUNT
  • Tells the DURATION
  • Tells the WEATHER
  • Tells the MOOD
  • Tells the DISTANCE
  • Tells the VALUE

I’m very conscious of not ruining the design with an ugly label. When I told Nicholas this he said something so funny – that “Labeling is like a dark art.” What I think he meant was a design can easily be ruined by over-labeling and distorting the design or under-labling and distorting the understanding. This is something that is definitely on my list of things to be aware of throughout my design process. I liked his choice of the word “accessible” when describing the communication goal.

INFO DISCLOSURE: How will the display disclose the information? Will it be always on or only display when the user is home? He spoke about his Nest, and how there are multiple levels of information displayed in normal use and when you interact with it. Should my object be just an object until the user is there? As much as I want to steer away from LED’s, I’m thinking it may be worth experimenting with hidden LED’s – the kind in the Apple keyboard and trackpad that shine through tiny holes in the metal. Could there be a benefit in labeling or advanced information appearing at times when it is relevant? (Oh my god did I just give into my no LED rule?)

AUDIENCE: I have been feeling a bit lost after the less than positive results from my survey. But Nicholas reassured me that there are others out there that enjoy tracking their personal data. He said on some level everyone tracks something, whether it’s in a notebook or they don’t want the data public OR they enjoy the services of companies that track and don’t care if it’s public. He likened it to a car telling you how many miles per gallon it gets — it helps you understand your behavior. And that’s all I’m trying to do too– help someone understand. (not control them or force them to change.)

Thanks again to Nicholas for an enriching conversation!


One thought on “A Chat with Nicholas Feltron

  1. This is awesome! He’s a super interesting guy. Have you downloaded Reporter yet? Hidden LEDs can be great. Take a look at the new tap points at Disney.

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