Life dot plots

What a graphic can tell you

(May 31, 2006) Originally written for Creating Passionate Users blog

I love looking at things in a new way. More to the point, I love it when I see things about the world that I thought I knew... but then realize there's more to the story.

And for the past few years I've been doing various pieces of research into information visualization--the science and art of making complex information visually perceivable. It's cool, it's fun, and every so often you learn something really, really interesting.

I was just sort of doodling the other day in Powerpoint. (If you must know, I was trying to prepare a talk to give at some university, and I started wondering how many dots you could usefully squeeze onto a Powerpoint slide.)

Now that sounds crazy: doodling in Powerpoint? Yeah, I know. But come to think of it, why not? It's got a bunch of okay tools for drawing and while you probably won't make great art, it's fine for quick sketching. You won't confuse the output with a masterwork in oil or water color, but it's really great for a quick sketch. And it IS the tool I spend a lot of time using, so I've grown pretty accustomed to its idiosyncracies.

So I drew a bunch of dots. Then it hit me--if a dot stood for a day, what would my life look like as a set of dots on the screen?

(You can click on each image to see it full-size.)

If that's 20 years worth of days, then what would the rest of my life look like? Could I fit a lifetime's worth of days onto a Powerpoint slide?

And how would you think of your life in terms of segments? I fooled around some more and came up with this as a way of thinking about the various parts of my career.

I certainly hope that my life and career last more than 60 years! Nevertheless, I found this an intriguing way of looking at the progress of your life.

Or, to put it more pragmatically, where's your dot?

Question for you: What information graphic was most informative / influential / insightful for you? Was there a great piece of infoviz that really just did it for you?

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Last edited: June 25, 2007