Posts by Fathom
Processing Community Day

Just a few weeks ago was the first ever Processing Community Day. As volunteers and attendees, we were lucky enough to be able to watch inspiring community talks, see new and old faces, and present our own work. In this post, Danielle and Olivia reflect on their experience.

After having a wonderful time volunteering at Scratch Day last year, Olivia suggested we should plan a similar event to celebrate the Processing community. Processing users have grown rapidly since its beginning in 2001, but there has never been an officially organized in person event. It was fitting then for the theme of the first inaugural Processing Community Day to be “convening for the first time.”

Organized by Taeyoon Choi, co-founder of the School for Poetic Computation in New York, over two hundred attendees met at the MIT Media Lab on October 21st to hear talks, demo projects, and participate in workshops by the Processing Foundation and Fellows, students, teachers, artists, and members of the Processing community. It was exciting to see people meet who shared an affection for Processing, and learn about the different ways it has been a part of their work – from engineering to art, from music to teaching.

One of our favorite talks was by Claire Kearney-Volpe and Mathura Govindarajan from NYU Ability Project. They spoke about their work using p5.js to create code “readers” and other programming tools for people who are visually impaired. Although p5/Processing is primarily a coding language for visuals, this work shows how it can be used in non-traditional applications as well. Because our work at Fathom focuses on accessibility through the means of visual presentation, it was a good reminder of how we might think about understanding data and information accessibility in other forms, and what those tools might look like.

Another one of our favorites was by Sharon De La Cruz, artist and educator at Princeton University. She spoke on taking ownership of feeling vulnerable in her work and art practice, in other words being comfortable being uncomfortable.

There were also tons of great cross-disciplinary speakers during the community lightning talks. Ari Melenciano is a multi-disciplinary artist who spoke about the importance of representation, and how she combines creative coding, music, and building her own musical instruments. Rosa Weinberg showed projects from her work at Nuvu studio and how she pushes students to think outside the traditional forms of engineering. Since we can’t highlight everyone, you should check out the post here to learn more about all the community speakers we had.

Another highlight was seeing demos of work in person that we had only seen online. Freeliner, a program made in Processing by Montreal-based artist Maxime Damecour, traces drawn lines and shapes with light projections in real-time, creating an interactive light installation on any blank surface with a marker and projector.

We’re thrilled to have seen many old and new faces at the first Processing Community Day, and we’re looking forward to the next one!

— Danielle and Olivia

Exploring On Being

We’re thrilled to announce the release of a new project in partnership with On Being, the Peabody Award-winning podcast and public radio show that “opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?”

We created a discovery tool based on the hundreds of conversations that have taken place over the show’s fourteen-year history. We designed an algorithm that distilled the episodes into a collection of key ideas and phrases, woven together by threads of related thought. Our aim is to allow listeners to explore the show’s archive and discover serendipitous connections between their favorite episodes and ones they may not have heard. Once users have found a topic that interests them, they can read the transcript, stream the full episode, or add it to a playlist and save it for later.

We wanted the visual design of the discovery tool to reflect On Being’s mission of exploring the human condition through conversation, so we created what we call “whispers.” These excerpts from the show’s transcripts fade in and out across the screen, highlighting the key phrases for each episode and giving the impression of overhearing an exchange between two people. Whispers that are most closely related to the current episode appear at the top of the page, so users can dig deep into a single idea or click on different themes to switch topics completely.

We enjoyed working with On Being because we share their sense of curiosity and attention to detail, which matches well with our design and development process. Over the course of a few months, we created several variations of the archive explorer as we worked with the show’s producers to figure out what features would be most useful to devoted followers and new listeners alike. Ultimately, we arrived at a design that combines audio episodes and transcripts with a collection of beautiful images and a focus on the unique threads of conversation that make On Being special. We hope you find something new while exploring more than a decade of thoughts and ideas.

You can check out the project here.

First of Her Kind

Amidst all the attention given to the 2016 presidential campaign, it was easy to miss an important date in the history of women in American government. One hundred years ago, on November 7, 1916, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman to be elected to federal office when she won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Jeanette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress in 1916.
In 1916, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman elected to Congress. (Image credit: Sharon Sprung/Public Domain)

Incredibly, her achievement came several years before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, at a time when women’s suffrage in the U.S. was a patchwork of state and local laws.

As Rankin put it, she was “the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote.”

To date, 45 states have elected female representatives, 27 have elected female senators, and 24 female governors. To celebrate their accomplishments, we created a poster showing the first woman elected to serve as governor, senator, and representative from each state.

The poster is now for sale, and like all our poster projects, the proceeds will be donated to charity.

The poster includes portraits of every woman to serve as the first female governor, senator, or representative from her state.

The past century has seen 392 women serve in these positions, but we wanted to put the focus on the women who broke the initial barrier of being elected by the state communities in which they lived. This is also why we chose not to include women who were appointed to their positions—we wanted to highlight the importance of the democratic process and how it might be shaped by changing perceptions of gender. It may not even seem that surprising that women have been elected to these positions, until you’re reminded that this is just 100 years of our government’s 240-year history, and that dozens of states still haven’t had a woman serve in all three positions.

The colors used in the poster–purple, gold, and green–were inspired by the colors used by suffragists in the United States and United Kingdom. Purple represented loyalty and dedication to the cause of women’s suffrage, gold symbolized “the color of light and life,” and green stood for hope.

A "votes for women" pennant in the traditional suffragette colors. (Image credit: Wendy Kaveney/Creative Commons)
A “Votes for Women” pennant. (Image credit: Wendy Kaveney/Creative Commons)

Three women appear twice on the poster because they were both the first female representative and first female senator from their state. They are Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California were elected on the same ballot, so they’re both included. (Feinstein began serving a few months earlier, because her seat was part of a special election.)

Illustrations from the poster of Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California.
Illustrations from the poster of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California.

A few more things we learned along the way:

  • Nine states have elected women to all three positions: Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
  • Mississippi is the only state to have not elected a woman to any of these positions.
  • Delaware just elected their first female representative to the House this year! Lisa Blunt Rochester will represent the state’s at-large district.

While we were compiling the lists of women to feature on the poster, we came across countless inspiring stories. Here are a few that we found particularly interesting:

Edith Nourse Rogers became the first female representative from Massachusetts in 1925, and still holds the record for the longest-serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. She served until 1960, and sponsored more than a thousand bills, many focusing on veterans’ issues.

Edith Nourse Rogers in the House chamber in 1926. (Image credit" U.S. House of Representatives)
Edith Nourse Rogers in the House chamber in 1926. (Image credit: U.S. House of Representatives)

After a career in filmmaking, Ruth Bryan Owen was elected in 1928 as Florida’s first female representative. She served two terms and was later appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the ambassador to Denmark–the first woman to be appointed a United States ambassador.

Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut had a decades-long career in politics. In 1955, she became the first woman to be elected Floor Leader of the Connecticut House of Representatives. In 1974, after serving two terms in the U.S. Congress, she opted to not run for reelection and instead ran for governor of Connecticut. She won, becoming the first female governor of Connecticut and the first female governor in the country who wasn’t a wife or widow of an ex-governor.

After a storied career including fifteen years in the Hawaii House of Representatives, eight years as Hawaii’s lieutenant governor, and six years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Mazie Hirono became Hawaii’s first female senator in 2012. She is also the first Asian-American woman in the Senate. Much of Hirono’s work throughout her political career focused on advocating for pre-kindergarten education.

Mazie Hirono shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden after being sworn in to the U.S. Senate. (Image credit: Mazie Hirono)
Mazie Hirono shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden after being sworn in to the U.S. Senate. (Image credit: Mazie Hirono)

We hope you’ll buy a print of the poster through the Fathom print shop and help support some of the worthy causes that receive the proceeds. And we look forward to updating the poster with more firsts in the coming years.



Interactive reports

From trends in civic tech, to monitoring poverty in New York City, to understanding the future of business, we’ve been fielding more inquiries from organizations who want better ways to communicate the data in their research and reports.

Even as they move away from printed reports and into PDF documents shared online or by email, the same questions remain: How do I reach a broader audience? How do I make the data as understandable and transparent as possible? How do we make sure this information is widely shared? No matter how important the information in a report, even a motivated reader will be challenged to find the time to dig into a few dozen pages, given the number of things already competing for their attention. In these projects, we make complex reports more accessible by creating simple interactive diagrams. They first draw attention to the most important aspects of the data for the quickest possible read, but also provide additional controls so that interested users can delve into the report.

In a series of reports monitoring poverty and well-being in New York City, we translated survey data from Columbia University into multiple interactive visualizations for the Robin Hood Foundation. Normally, only a smaller expert audience already familiar with this kind of report would have seen this information. But with the visualization on their site, Robin Hood has been able to expand its audience, engaging more people with vital information on how poverty manifests in New York.

Robin Hood: Poverty Tracker

With this project, as we do with every project, we’re thinking about not just the data, but also key audiences and the context in which they’ll be using the data or interacting with the report. Will they be on a tablet during their morning subway commute? Sitting at their desk later in the day? Glancing at their phone in an elevator between meetings? Given the importance of Robin Hood’s subject matter, how do we share that with the general public? How do we clearly reach previous—and potential—donors? Can the piece help explain the poverty situation to legislators or motivate their constituents? Ultimately, we want to empower the user by making the data more accessible and understandable.

Our process always begins by looking at the data. Through initial sketches or tools, we depict the available data and reveal interesting stories contained within. From there, we work with our clients to align what we see with what matches their understanding of the data, based on their deeper knowledge of the information or subject matter. Frequently, this initial work will reveal new patterns that our client wasn’t aware of, and we’ll work with them to identify a point of interest to be pursued, an anomaly in the data that requires fixing, or simply an unnecessary distraction.

Next we begin to develop the overall narrative and visual structure of the piece. It all comes together as we build the final interactive piece, which makes its way through several rounds of software development, design iterations, and refining with our clients, the domain experts. By designing directly with code, we can refine the interactions and the animations as we go, and work out the kinks in ideas that initially looked promising, but weren’t supported in the final analysis or design of the piece.

A second example of our process is a project commissioned by the Knight Foundation. In conjunction with research they conducted on the evolving civic tech landscape, we created an interactive visualization that allows users to explore over $695 million of investments across 241 organizations. The resulting piece on their site turned their traditional SlideShare approach into something engaging and exploratory. We were pleased to hear a year later that the project has continued to have exceptionally high levels of engagement in terms of number of visitors and time spent on the site.

The Knight Foundation: Civic Tech
The Knight Foundation: Civic Tech

More recently, Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work conducted a study of digital impact on business, and asked us to create an interactive tool that executives, journalists, and others could mine for information relevant to them. Traditionally, this type of material is released as a white paper, so we were challenged to present that research in a different, compelling, and understandable format for a broader audience. For Cognizant, we focused a lot of attention on how to create a smooth experience for a business leader accustomed to reading traditional reports. When a reader feels confident that they clearly understand the data, they might be encouraged to share what they’re learning and continue to spread the information.

With all pieces that complement a report, the emphasis is on showing more than telling — interactive graphics with brief accompanying text rather than long paragraphs and static charts. How do you visually demonstrate your argument, rather than constructing it from paragraphs of text alone? The best interactive graphics may even replace the white paper or traditional report, but that’s not always (or even usually) the point: more often, we hope to guide the viewer from initial engagement with the data to greater involvement.

Check out all three projects here:

Robin Hood: Poverty Tracker

The Knight Foundation: Civic Tech

Cognizant: The Work Ahead


Related posts
Poverty Tracker’s latest update
The emergence of civic tech
Poverty Tracker’s latest update

We’re excited to release the latest update to the Poverty Tracker. The project is a collaboration with the Robin Hood Foundation and Columbia’s Population Research Center that has continued to look at poverty and hardship in New York City over the past three years.

The new landing page design features an updated navigation and rotating carousel of visualization thumbnails.

Building off the longitudinal data from the previous report, the latest edition depicts the total count of those who experience hardship over three years. A single year’s data might suggest that only a small percentage of New Yorkers are facing poverty, but looking over three years shows how almost half the city’s population experienced poverty at some point during that time.

The interactive donut chart represents years spent in hardship across seven demographics in New York City.

This report also takes a look at the different types of “shocks” people are facing—such as losing a job, going through a divorce, or getting arrested—and how that affects the length of time individuals experience hardship.

The ripple chart represents the percentage of people who have experienced shocks and years they spent with disadvantage in New York City.

It’s been a privilege to build on this project with the Robin Hood Foundation and Columbia’s Population Research Center as more data is collected and new reports are added. Since its launch in 2014, the Poverty Tracker site has grown from one report to four, and with that, into an accessible resource that paints a striking picture of poverty in New York City.

You can check out the full site at

Related posts
Poverty isn’t Permanent
Poverty, Health, and Neighborhood Services

Founded in 2010 by Ben Fry, Fathom Information Design works with clients to understand complex data through interactive tools and software for mobile devices, the web, and large format installations. Out of its studio in Boston, Fathom partners with Fortune 500s and non-profit organizations across sectors, including health care, education, financial services, media, technology, and consumer products.

How can we help?