Poverty isn’t Permanent

We’re excited to announce the latest installment of the Robin Hood Poverty Tracker. About two years ago, we worked with teams at Robin Hood and the Columbia Population Research Center to create a visualization that outlined the complexities of poverty and hardship in New York City. Now, two years later, we’re able to show how the population of New Yorkers experiencing financial disadvantage has changed over time. While many think of poverty as a persistent state of being, the latest visualization shows how New Yorkers of every age, race, gender, and education level move in and out of financial hardship.


The premise of the Poverty Tracker rests on the notion that official poverty measures are wrong. Considering the rising cost of living in different geographic areas, and the wide range of income sources families receive–the rather outdated federal poverty measure doesn’t fully capture the magnitude of disadvantage, particularly for those in New York City. As a result, Robin Hood has elevated the conversation about material hardship. The term can include anything from being evicted, forgoing medical care, having utilities cut off, or running out of food–all due to lack of funds. For the 9% of adult New Yorkers who remained in poverty from 2012 to 2013, 23% stayed in hardship. Material hardship, as it turns out, has a lot of staying power.

The latest addition of the Poverty Tracker reminds us that people move in and out of financial disadvantage. While owning assets like a home, a car, or savings help cushion New Yorkers from financial struggles, we were surprised to find that those with large sums of debt are actually less likely to experience poverty. If you take a step back to think about it, it makes sense: you need a high income to qualify for large loans. At the same time, debtors who owe large sums of money are more likely to experience material hardship.


Poverty in New York isn’t permanent, but it’s certainly still a problem. To learn more about the persistence of poverty and hardship for different populations, explore the data on the site.

Millions of women need birth control

Hundreds of millions of women worldwide lack the freedom or the means to decide if, when, or how often they’ll have children. In the United States alone, 4.72 million married women want to stop or delay having kids, but don’t have birth control. Our most recent visualization for No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project explores where married women lack the means to plan the number or timing of their children. In the policy world, the issue is described as the “unmet need for family planning,” but you can think of it as the disconnect between a woman’s reproductive intentions and her contraceptive behavior.

More than one in ten women in the U.S. lack the means to plan their pregnancies

There’s a whole host of reasons why married women who want to stop or delay having kids don’t use contraceptives. Reasons include cost, lack of access or information, the perception of being at low risk for pregnancy, opposition to use, and stigma, among many others. Overall though, one of the most commonly cited explanations was that there was an insufficient supply of methods and services, meaning there weren’t enough people or places that could share information on available methods, or give women access to their choice option. Cost is also a major barrier, so many women are quite literally priced out of their reproductive rights.

When women and men lack the resources for family planning, they may have more children than they’re able to support. Women in Niger, for instance, have an average of eight children each, yet nearly one in four want to stop or delay having kids (but don’t have birth control). Also keep in mind that the average fertility rate is eight children, so many women in Niger have even more than eight mouths to feed.


We launched the story in conjunction with the Women Deliver conference, based in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week. The conference brings together people from a variety of backgrounds to drive progress in maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights.

To me, the story on the need for family planning speaks the the level of agency a woman has in her marriage. When a married woman lacks the say to plan her pregnancies, she also lacks a say in her future. Explore country level data at noceilings.org/family-planning. You can also learn more on the explanations for unmet in a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2016

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we created a video for No Ceilings that demonstrates how achieving gender parity is critical to accomplishing the seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs). In 2015, 193 countries around the world created a global agenda—outlined by the SDGs—intended to reduce poverty, increase shared prosperity, and protect the planet, among a series of other objectives. No Ceilings is a data-driven platform we built in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation to measure the progress and setbacks of girls and women worldwide. Given the similar objectives of the SDGs and No Ceilings, we were both humbled and excited to create the video.

The sustainable development goals seek to improve global health, education, economic participation, and sustainability, among a myriad of other important issues. One of the objectives centers on gender equality and empowering girls and women. While it is an important goal independently, No Ceilings also sees gender equality as a force underpinning many of the other issues at play. Increasing women’s participation in the labor force, for instance, could have lasting benefits for national and global economies, reducing inequalities, and expanding industry and innovation.


While the No Ceilings site provides a series of geographically and thematically nuanced stories around the status of girls and women, the video provides a comprehensive global picture. It reminds us that inequalities are not siloed to particular issues. Disparities in economic participation are connected to challenges in education and health. If discriminatory policies prevent women from gaining access to banks or other financial resources, for instance, then they are less financially independent, and less equipped to provide for the health and schooling of their families.

Girls and women make up half of the global population. By giving them equal opportunities to their male counterparts, we are all the more closer to reaching the wider sustainable development agenda. Don’t forget to celebrate International Women’s Day today, and every other day for that matter! Learn more at noceilings.org.

Related posts
No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project (project launch)
Data in 3D: The No Ceilings Mobile Globe
Clinton Global Initiative 2015
GE Transformation Timeline

We’re excited to announce our latest project, an interactive timeline for GE’s corporate website showcasing their transformation as a company over the last 100+ years. GE is one of the world’s largest companies, and that only feels more true as you look through their history, and see how they have influenced almost every sector of technology and industry. From healthcare to aviation, energy and power to television, GE has touched it all.

One of the illustrated headers Rachel created for the project. This one is for Appliances.
One of the illustrated headers Rachel created for the project. This one is for Appliances.

Fathom has done work with GE in the past, but it’s been a while! Recently, we teamed up with their team and our friend, Camille of Estuary Branding, to take a fresh look at GE’s historical timeline. The previous timeline was out of date in both content and structure. The goals of the new Transformation Timeline were to showcase the people, events and technology that define each of GE’s businesses, and demonstrate how GE has changed over time.


The original timeline was a series of webpages with many image carousels, and it lacked a narrative flow. For our piece, we wanted visitors to get the big picture of GE, while also having the ability to explore individual events. The landing page features an awesome animation by Rachel, which highlights the world-changing technologies GE developed over its 100+ year history. Their innovations started with the lightbulb, and have evolved to the vacuum tube, and all the way to today’s wind turbines.

The landing page
The landing page

Below the animation there is also an overall view of the timeline. You can see how GE’s earlier history spanned mostly across light, energy, and transportation, while some of the later businesses, like aviation, didn’t start until almost midway through the company’s history.

A technology transfer
A technology transfer

Part of what makes GE such an interesting company is that they have people working across all different technological fields, and those businesses communicate and share technology with each other. We were able to show this in the timeline through technology transfers. Throughout the timeline, there are examples of these technology transfers, and a special view showing how two or more events across businesses are connected.


There were also lots of events I didn’t know GE was responsible for. For example, Thomas Edison, not only a fellow Cooper Union grad, but also the founder of GE, invented the first motion picture camera. A video on YouTube recently surfaced showing a film of cats that had been recorded with Edison’s camera. That’s right, GE was responsible for (probably) the first cat video ever.

While they’re most famous for their spinning things (gas turbines, wind turbines and airplane engines), they have produced a lot of strange and experimental technologies throughout their history. One example is the Walking Truck, a machine created in 1969 to facilitate navigating rough terrain. The project ultimately failed, but it has inspired countless sci-fi cousins.

The gallery of GE Appliances images.
The gallery of GE Appliances images.

For some of the older consumer businesses, there are a lot of amazing advertisements and photography. We wanted to make sure that those materials, which GE has been known for in the past, were included in the timeline as well. For Appliances and Broadcast, we added a gallery view of historical images, which included things like ads for pink GE refrigerators and photographs of the first toaster ever!

Overall it was a pretty amazing project and there are lots of goodies hidden throughout the timeline. Check it out for yourself at ge.com/transformation!

Another illustrated header, this time for healthcare.

James speaks at SATE Conference

This past fall I spoke at the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) SATE conference at Carnegie Mellon University. SATE stands for Storytelling, Architecture, Technology and Experience — the core elements of themed entertainment — and by “themed entertainment” they mean amusement parks like Disney World and Universal Studios, among others.

TEA has posted my talk, “Technology Unleashed”, if you’re interested in watching.

Presenting in front of a massive screen at the SATE conference.
Presenting in front of a massive screen at the SATE conference.

SATE is a two day conference dedicated to exploring how their core elements can be used to create meaningful places, experiences, and events. I was asked to speak about how data visualization can be integrated into Experience Design. Being an industry outsider, it was interesting to speak to an audience that is less familiar with data visualization, and the ways it can be translated into experience design within the park architecture, behind the scenes, and after visitors leave the parks.

There were a lot of other great speakers, take a look:

“Experience in the Age of Big Data” – Joshua Jeffery

“Social Action Unleashed” – Anna Musun Miller

“Avoid the Penny” – Adam Bezark

It was a great conference. Thanks to the team at TEA for having me.

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? hello@fathom.info.