Monday, August 30, 2010

Design Thinking: Data and Life Stories

What on Earth is THIS??

(Seriously, don't try to read it. Just appreciate the gobs of teeny tiny text and the colors.)

A periodic table? An eye test?

No, it's actually a bunch of intertwined life stories.

This is a diagram of the seats inside a theatre that has been in operation since the 1950s. The building itself was built in 1914.

All those tiny words are the names of people who, at one point or another, gave a donation to the theatre and had their name put on a little brass plaque on a seat.

Many of the plaques are gone. This is a reconstruction, showing which plaques are on ARMS of chairs (pink), BACKS of chairs (red), gone (black), or not done yet because they are new donors (blue).

That in itself isn't particularly amazing... what is amazing is when you put this seemingly dry bunch of text in front of someone who has history with the theatre.

The stories just start pouring out. One name reminds them of another, relationships, incidents, shows, performances, all sorts of things. I spoke with a gentleman whose 94- and 92-year-old in-laws are two of the people whose plaques I am restoring. He could tell me about romances that started on the stage (leading to a wedding that he later photographed), people who got their starts there, people who got along, didn't get along, it just went on.

All from this spreadsheet with color-coded names.

So now, I'm putting plaques on seats, but I'm also going to make a big printout of all the names once we're done, so people can stand in the lobby and share their stories.

My point in showing this? All information has people behind it. The key is to connect with those people. Everything of value comes from relationships. A graph only depicts things that have been done by human beings. If you remember this, you can use graphs and charts to give your information a soul.

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