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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 we turned into wearable buttons to spark conversations and connections for the five days of the event.


In early 2017 Accurat was aked 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 space and was looking for a partner to create a unique experience that would 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 for 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 my iPad. The visualizations were then immediately transferred to a print server, where our team created a wearable button that was given to the attendee, along with a legend explaining how to read the Data Portrait.


Anticipating the large number of people who stopped by the Target activation space, Accurat had preemptively designed and developed a tablet app that automated the process of generating the Data Portraits. The app faithfully replicated my design, style, and even calligraphy, so, if people weren’t up for the short wait required to have me draw their Data Portrait in front of them, they had the quicker 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 their 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 of imagining and defining the visual language of the Data Portraits started with sketches on paper and went through multiple iterations before I settled on the final design that was used at TED. The tablet app created by Accurat used web technologies to replicate the style of the elements that I designed. The app was deployed on the cloud, which made it immediately accessible on the varying number of devices that were used, depending on the size of the crowd during the conference breaks.
This allowed for valuable flexibility in the management of the Data Portraits’ production, limiting the wait for the attendees to just a few seconds.


Many design iterations and tests were part of our design process:

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