2017 |

What's in a Data Portrait?

Dataviz, Experience, Live Performance, and Mobile App

Best known in recent years for the online video series, TED Talks, TED began as a meetup for entrepreneurs, thinkers, tinkerers, and doers in 1990. Today, the marquee annual conference in Vancouver is both a return to roots and an international media event that attracts high–profile innovators, up–and–coming disruptors, and top–tier corporate sponsors. In 2017, long term supporter Target called on Accurat to design an ice–breaking activation based on the year’s theme, “The Future of You.”


By 2017, Target had been a TED sponsor for over a decade, each time responding to the annual theme with a fresh new take. With that year’s edition, they wanted to rethink the potential of a tricky topic: personal data collection. Could it be used for good? They challenged Accurat to design a data–driven activation that could lead to meaningful mingling at the networking conference and potentially, long-lasting connections.
2017 TED speakers included Serena Williams, Elon Musk, and Pope Francis.


Accurat worked in partnership with David Stark Design to come up with an experience that fit the bill. We brainstormed ways to show how data could be "personalized" to reflect a person's character without exposing private information. We landed on the idea of "Data Portraits:" compact artworks generated based on participants’ responses to a personality–based questionnaire.

We worked collaboratively to come up with items for the survey, keeping in mind that the questions would need to be thoughtful enough to yield meaningful responses, yet non–confrontational. The final survey included prompts like “When do you get your best ideas?”, “How messy is your desk?”, and “Do you follow rules or do you break them?” While highly subjective, the questions could nonetheless be answered with multiple choice options, and thus easily assessed as data.

For the design itself, we leaned on the artistry of our co–founder Giorgia Lupi (a former TED speaker herself). She created a taxonomy by hand that translated answers into one–of–a–kind designs composed of drawn shapes, colors, and symbols.


The portraits presented a highly personalized, humanistic approach to data–gathering. To underscore this point, Lupi volunteered to sketch live at the event on her iPad. Anticipating that many would line up to "sit" for a Data Portrait, we created a web app version that recreated Lupi’s Q&A process and allowed everyone at the conference to participate.

Data portraits were printed on pins for guests to wear. The buttons served as literal conversation pieces in some cases, prompting chatter among strangers who had taken part in the exercise. The mini–Portraits were ubiquitous on the conference floor.
The makeup of this button shows that "Diego" identifies as the "D" in "TED" (design), they get their best ideas before falling asleep/waking up, and that they believe the future looks bright.
Lupi's live sessions gave participants a special chance to sit for a Data Portrait with the artist herself. Following the pre–established visual code, her illustrations were nearly indistinguishable from those spun up by the app. Using the app, most guests received pins (along with digital copies, sent by email) within seconds of completing the survey.

A Data Portrait hand-drawn by Giorgia.

Another Data Portrait, generated by the app. The two "drawing" processes yielded nearly identical designs.


Over 500 TED + Target Data Portraits were printed at the event. Fastened to attendees' lapels, they broadened the activation's footprint far beyond its station, and even past the duration of the five–day conference. The Data Portraits became meaningful souvenirs, or keepsakes once the gathering had ended.

Meanwhile, the last question of the survey revealed some encouraging insight. In response to the prompt "The future is...," a majority of participants responded "Bright."
Lupi at work on a one–of–a–kind sketch.
The Data Portrait corner in Target's activation space.
Accurat’s on-site team.
Luca Falasco
Giorgia Lupi
Giovanni Magni
Giovanni Marchi
Alberto Massa
Simone Quadri
Gabriele Rossi
David Stark Design
Live Performance
Mobile App
Dataviz, Experience, WebApp, and Mobile App Design
Interactive, Dataviz, Storytelling, and Experience


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