A Dozen Questions for Mr Felton
Nicholas Felton is an award-winning graphic designer and typographer based in New York.
Felton’s editorial information graphics for Esquire, The New York Times, Wired and Print, undertaken through his studio Megafone, are characterised by careful attention to detail and a high degree of craft and have won him considerable praise for his skills as an information designer.
His ongoing Feltron Annual Report (2008, 2007, 2006…) - a self-published series of personal annual reports - present detailed displays of personal data compiled from his everyday activities, collated into a rich collection of graphs and maps reflecting countless measurements of his year, available as limited edition prints.
Felton is also the co-founder of Daytum, a “social dashboard” that converts data surrounding subscribers’ habits and routines into elegant information visualisations. A partnership between Felton and Ryan Case, Daytum launched an enhanced subscription service (Daytum Plus) in April.
We asked Mr Felton a dozen questions.
Where did you learn your craft?
I went to school in Providence, Rhode Island at the the Rhode Island School of Design, and have had the good fortune of working for and with a number of truly talented designers throughout my career.
Who inspires you?
Sophie Calle, Brian Eno, Buckminster Fuller and E.O. Wilson.
What are your influences?
Science + Anything Designed Before Computers + Contagious Ideas + Good Stories
What role do systems play within your design process?
Systems, rules and structures are hugely important in my process.
Whether it’s a design brief or a grid system or a set of internal rules I designate - each one helps me narrow the range of possible outcomes of a design until I am confident that what I’ve created is both a good solution aesthetically and conceptually.
Does recording data about an activity alter one’s relationship to that activity, i.e. is gathering personal data recording, or constructing?
Perhaps they’re different things. I can record a year’s worth of activity without constructing any meaning from it. Before Daytum, that was my entire approach - the patterns and totals did not emerge until after the year was finished and could not affect the outcome. Now that Daytum can do the tabulations in real-time, the feedback and cross-influencing potential has definitely come into play… but I’m good at ignoring them.
After half a decade of gathering personal data have you discovered anything about yourself that you might otherwise have been unaware of?
In general, I drink less, I exercise more, I am generally less adventurous, I work more…. Predictably - I am getting and acting older.
Does enabling others to use your systems through Daytum devalue or strengthen your own work as an artist?
I definitely think it strengthens my work. As more people embrace and popularize personal reporting, it encourages me to experiment with new data-collection strategies and new visual communication approaches.
Have others’ uses of Daytum surprised you?
Absolutely… and that’s the best part of it. By creating an open and flexible system - we hope that more people can use it in ways that a dedicated site for tracking one thing, like running or diaper changes can never accommodate. We never thought that one of our users would be a dog!
Where do you see yourself on the nerd-designer continuum?
I see myself somewhere in the middle, but acknowledge that others probably place me much closer to the nerd end of the spectrum.
What’s your favourite typeface?
What day of the week is it?
In the desert island scenario, I would probably go with Hoefler Text. It’s been a go-to since we first met.
What’s your favourite plain text editor?
It will place me low on the nerd continuum, but if I’m not coding, my go-to text editor is TextEdit (in plain text mode).
What’s your favourite tea?
With green tea a distant second.