These days, there’s an mobile app or device for just about anything you might want to track about yourself. RescueTime can track your time on the computer. Fitbit lets you track how many steps you’re taking. Foursquare will track the places you’ve been. The list goes on and on.
Tracking that information can help you get in shape or stay productive, but it also can just look really, really cool. Data tells a story, and is fantastic subject matter for fine art and graphic design projects.
Nicholas Feltron is probably one of the most well-known designers doing projects like this. His gorgeous personal annual reports showcasing his obsessive-compulsive personal tracking have been making the rounds in design circles for years. They even inspired Facebook to create the Timeline.
Another artist doing some amazing work is Laurie Frick. She takes more of a fine-art approach to her Quantified Self explorations, which explore mood, temperature, weight, sleep patterns, heart-rate, and location data in a variety of media. Unlike the very polished corporate graphic design quality of Feltron’s personal reports, it’s not immediately apparent that Frick’s pieces are based on data. To me, that adds to their appeal. They work on their own as abstract pieces, but the underlying story told by the data makes them even more interesting.
I’m noticing more and more examples of this type of data-driven approach to creative projects. Here’s an interactive annual report by Jehiah Czebotar showcasing several personal data points. And here’s a series based on GPS tracks. And yet another based on the location of the mouse over a period of hours or days.
So how can you use data in your creative projects? Flowingdata.com has several tutorials that are a great introduction to several of the technologies that you can use to create visualizations.
Six beautiful things you can do with your data, right now
In many cases, developing the creative and technical skill sets for your own projects isn’t necessary. Here are six services that will let you create a variety of great-looking visual pieces, just by plugging in your own data.
Notch makes dynamic infographics based on your fitness data. You can connect it with your Fitbit, Runkeeper, or BodyMedia account. Once you’re connected, you can generate and share a number of beautiful visuals based on your activity levels. Here’s one of mine.
I’ve been tracking my music listening habits with Last.fm for the past several years. It’s great, because the data lets Last.fm personalize my radio stations. But I can also make a really awesome chart of my listening history using LastGraph. Just enter your Last.fm username and give it a few seconds to index your history. Then head over to the “posters” tab and you can generate a “stream graph” of your listening history for a given time period.
IOGraph is a nifty little application that records your mouse position over time. Let it run for a while and watch a picture of your computer time build up. It makes for some pretty fantastic abstract compositions.
It’s fun, and you don’t have to have a pre-existing data set to play with. I created the image above while writing this post.
Meshu takes geographic information about you and uses it to make customized jewelry. For example, you can enter every city you’ve ever lived in, or connect it with your Foursquare account, and then it will generate a custom design for you based on the connections between those locations. The finished product is abstract, and won’t be recognizable as a map to others. In other words, a really good conversation piece.
So you may not already have a pile of data laying around covering your fitness, sleep, music, or location histories. But you probably use social media, and the infographics directory visual.ly has a bunch of different designs you can plug your social data into.
Vizify lets you pull data from a bunch of different sources to create a series of graphics telling your life story. Works great as a resume, or just a way to let people quickly learn more about you.
I’m curious, are there any other services you’ve found that do interesting things with your personal data?