Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 9.52.44 AM.png

Data Portraits at TED

Data Portraits at TED

Personal data to create a connection between people


For the Target space at TED 2017 in Vancouver we designed and produced unique visual Data Portraits of the attendees, visual designs based on answers to simple but evocative questions that were turned into wearable buttons, to spark conversations and connections for the five days of the event.


In early 2017 Accurat has been contacted by TED and David Stark Design to imagine a live experience for Target, a major conference partner for the past decade. David Stark Design imagined and built the Target activation space in the foyer of the conference and was looking for a partner to create a unique experience that could bring people together and reveal something about them they didn’t know: the goal was to find innovative ways to use the personal data of the conference attendees to foster spontaneous and serendipitous connections between them.


 Target builds a bridge to create a cozy social space at TED2017, April 24-28, 2017, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

Target builds a bridge to create a cozy social space at TED2017, April 24-28, 2017, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED


In preparation to TED 2017 we worked with the Target creative team and with David Stark Design to imagine a set of non-invasive and simple, yet evocative, questions that revealed small fun facts about participants. 

Questions such as: “Which TED letter are you? Technology, Entertainment or Design?”, “When do you get your best ideas?”, “How messy is your desk?”, “Do you follow rules or do you break them?”.

We then developed a design system that turned each answer into a unique set of shapes, colors and symbols, to represent people's views and personality. The color, position, and rotation of every element indicated a different response, creating a work of art from the data that makes you you.

During the breaks from the talks on the main TED stage, I was present in person at the Target space to rapidly turn people’s answers to the questionnaire into unique hand-drawn data visualizations using her iPad. The visualizations were then immediately transferred to a print server, where our team created a wearable button that was handed back to the attendee along with a legend that explained how to read the Data Portrait.


Given the high number of people who stopped by the Target activation space, Accurat also preemptively designed and developed a tablet app that automated the process of generation of the Data Portraits. The app faithfully replicated my design, style and even calligraphy so, if people weren’t up for the little wait required to have me draw their Data Portrait in front of them, they had the quick alternative of filling out the questionnaire on the app and get their button in a matter of seconds. In both cases, each attendee walked away from Target’s space with a physical copy of the Data Portrait and also received a digital copy via email, ready to be shared online. A visual legend to interpret the data always accompanied the portraits


The process to imagine and define the visual language of the Data Portraits started with sketches on paper and went through multiple iterations before settling on the final design that was used at TED.
The tablet app created by Accurat then used web technologies to replicate the style of the elements designed by me and was deployed on the cloud; this made it accessible immediately on a varying number of devices, that were used depending on the size of the crowd during the conference breaks.
This allowed for extreme flexibility in the management of the Data Portraits production, limiting the wait for the attendees to just a few seconds for the whole duration of the event.


Many design iterations and tests have of course been part of our design process:

This very particular type soft data and small data representation proved to be a very effective way to promote connections and conversations and the success of the initiative proves there is a big interest in discovering data even in the most unexpected places; Target once again affirmed itself as the TED partner who brought people together and made them think. Accurat completed over 500 Data Portraits and, when asked the last question of the survey (The future is…), a wide majority of attendees have said that the future is bright.