Visualization started to become popularized in design circles during the early 2000s. What followed was an explosion of tools to make it easier for designers to create visualizations. This newfound agency to create data-driven work drove a need for more publicly accessible datasets. This data ranged from weather data, city data like Open Data Toronto, or United Nations data found at data.un.org.
These datasets were massive repositories of quantitative data—interesting to visualize, but lacking a human edge. Designers such as Jonathan Harris, Nicholas Felton, and many others took a different route; they built their own datasets from either user-generated or self-reported data. Their outcomes from this work were as engaging as they were empathic.
Jonthan Harris delivered We Feel Fine, which was a website that collected user-generated content about how they felt—it also helped that this was a TED Talk. The visualization was a beautiful exploration of emotions and new ways to visualize qualitative data. This project added a bit of a voyeuristic angle to datavis, allowing strangers to explore the emotions of others, far removed from the emotion itself. It was also one of the early web-based datavis projects that showed the power of the web for animation and interaction.
Next up we have the Feltron Reports, put out by Nicholas Felton. These reports were annual reports about his everyday life. How much he walked, drank, slept, exercised—banal everyday kind of data. His last one was in
2014 (RIP Feltron Reports, you did good). Felton and Ryan Case would eventually create Daytum, which was a social network for people to publicly share their own banal everyday kind of data. Users would share some oddly personal datasets—my favourite is Hair Everywhere or Movies My Kid Makes Me Watch.