The Feltron 2010 Annual Report is brilliantly all over the map

[Alyson Kuhn] The 2010 Feltron annual report is the sixth in a series created by graphic designer Nicholas Felton to document his year in a delightfully data-centric but visually vibrant way. The 2010 report is subtitled “The Paternal Report,” and it offers an amazing look at the life of Gordon Felton, Nicholas’ father, who passed away last October. Here are nine of my favorite facts and figures from chatting with Nicholas Felton.

The Feltron 2006 Annual Report shipped to 36 states and 26 countries.

1. You can order the annual reports online.
Felton, not surprisingly, can show the countries to which he has shipped each year’s reports. Glenn Schuster of DataGraphic — the printer of the 2010 report, mailing label and sold-out companion poster — notes, “We printed the labels on Mohawk Superfine Smooth Ultrawhite 65# Cover, to match the report and poster. It’s a long way to go to create a mailing label, but the client — rightfully so — wanted everything to be one cohesive suite.”

After the mailing label was printed, a pressure-sensitive backing and liner were applied.

2. Felton used Processing to produce all his maps and graphs.
The über-map shows the 1011 places Nicholas could confirm that his father had been. He comments, “It’s kind of a memory map — it leaves blank the places he had no personal knowledge of. I was hopeful I would get enough points to suggest the continents. The more information you have, the better. I’m always finding a new data point. You just input it and run the program.”

Schuster adds, “Before we foil-stamped the map on the cover, we tested five different satin gold foils, looking for the one that would release the best.”

The foil plate is 22 in. long, a ¼-in.-thick slab of copper weighing about 30 lbs.

3. Nicholas’ documenting tendencies may be genetic!
Gordon Felton kept lists of places he’d lived, so for his son it was largely a matter of reconciling artifacts. “My father had also kept a bag of postcards he’d received, so I had his exact home addresses. He was good at documenting his life, but not for any particular purpose. I think he was just an organized man. I had wanted to visualize his passports for several years, but unfortunately never found the opportunity to tackle his story until after he passed.” Nicholas’ mother has five-year diaries dating back 50 years, and his sister, who helped him empty out their father’s files, is an accountant.

The foil released so cleanly that all the tiny type — even the @ — is crisp.

4. Felton likes to design double-sided posters.
The 2010 poster includes all the spreads from the report, minus the cover. He acknowledges that if you’re going to frame it (see below), you’ll have to decide which side you want to show. “One side is concerned with the narrative of my father’s life, while the other side is less linear.”

5. The printer recommended Superfine.
At first Felton thought about using an exotic or synthetic paper. Schuster countered by suggesting Mohawk Superfine, both for its print performance and for its archival properties. Felton comments, “I wanted to give the piece real longevity, to turn it into an artifact in itself.” Every page is flooded with ink on both sides; anything that looks white is simply an absence of ink. So the paper itself [Superfine Smooth Ultrawhite 65# Cover] provides the white for an occasional large numeral or a series of hairlines in a graph or map — including a remarkably reduced electrocardiogram.

6. Felton can help you collect, categorize and communicate your everyday data.
Felton and partner Ryan Case have developed software and a site,, to help people — especially those of us who are acutely anecdotal — tell stories via data visualization. “It’s about how to take something that is dry and inhuman, like reams of data, and turn it into something that is compelling to read.” Even just browsing the site makes me hopeful.

7. Felton is a speaker at the upcoming eyeo festival (June 27–29).
He’ll be talking about the evolution of his annual reports and the trials and tribulations of putting together the 2010 report. He’ll discuss the “forensic exercises” involved, such as trying to read a passport stamp in a foreign language, or figuring out where and when a photo was taken.

8. He believes in community.
I asked Felton how he had managed to situate the mystery photos, and he replied, “I put about 50 images that I couldn’t identify on Flickr, and within the next 24 hours, about 45 of them had been identified.”

9. Paper carries the message.
Shipping the 2010 report has a special significance for Felton, who simply says, “People are ordering them from 50 countries, so it’s a bit like spreading my father’s ashes and his story.”

Nicholas Felton is a member of the product design team at Facebook. His annual reports were the subject of a feature in The New York Times last year. The Times recently highlighted his work in Peter Wayner’s report, “Illustrating Your Life in Graphs and Charts.”

DataGraphic is located at 555 Greenwich Street, Hempstead, NY 11550; ph. 516 485 9069. Though the company’s website is so low-key as to be stealthy, its printed identity materials offer both a great “dot aesthetic” and this enticing tag line: “your friendly fine commercial printers.”

Photography – Shots 1, 3, 6: © StudioAlex 2011


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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Pam on 06.20.11 at 12:43 pm

    Wonderful article.There was also a nice essay by Criswell Lappin on Print’s blog. It starts, “I held a man’s life in my hands….”

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