My role: Designer
Space: Toronto
Time: March 2019

Creativity is celebrated in Toronto during the DesignTO festival. The festival runs for almost two weeks in the middle of January and is filled with talks, tours, exhibitions, discussions, and experimentation. I participated in several events for 2019 but found it difficult to plan my itinerary by looking at the festival schedule. It’s not easy to immediately know which events overlap, which ones will be open outside of normal 9-5 office hours, or which ones would still be open past the festival dates. I tried to use the app as well but it was difficult to navigate the events.

An interesting challenge began to emerge. How could I use data visualization to show what was happening in the festival? I thought I would give this a shot. The festival is organized into three categories: exhibitions, events, and window installations. I decided to tackle the biggest category with 70 listings, exhibitions, which spans 13 pages in the printed festival guide.

At the bare minimum, the following should be shown for this project:

  • Which days the exhibit would be open for viewing
  • What times in the day the exhibit would be open
  • When the reception was for the exhibit

The following explores some of the challenges that came up with creating the visualization:

Respect the medium

The first question that came to mind was the size of the canvas. How big would this dataviz need to be? I don’t usually have a restriction and work with what looks good. But this time, I thought it might be a good idea to actually have the canvas size match the size of the printed hand guide. The printed guide is 21 cm x 13 cm

One of my initial sketches included an idea to create the dataviz as something that could be folded. Something like a tri-fold brochure.

At the end, I went with something that was 21 cm x 39 cm. This way, the sheet could be folded and fit perfectly into the printed guide.

Irregular and Inconsistent Data

The biggest challenge was that every single exhibition had unique days it was open and unique times for those days. It might be open in the afternoon between 1-3 on a Thursday and it would be open from 1-6 in the afternoon on Friday. These times are not consistent which meant I had to create buckets in a day to group time meaningfully. This meant I had to consider what was important to the end-user. Would it be important to categorize opening times outside of the regular 9AM-5PM business hours? But what if you were a student and you don’t work? What if you work night shifts? I needed a baseline, something to be the starting point.

Armed with these questions, I needed to know who attended the DesignTO festivals. The DesignTO annual report for 2017-2018 show the following data of its visitors:

The distribution is quite even with just over half of the visitors being under 35. As a result, I thought the best approach was to look at time that everyone can understand, which was in the terms of morning, afternoon, evening.

I started to explore various ways to show time.

Circles
Swirls
Musical notation
Density
Lists
Patterns

In the end, the one that made the most sense were the dots on the timeline.

The first represented the morning, second afternoon, third evening.

  • Morning: 6 AM – 12 PM
  • Afternoon: 12 PM – 6 PM
  • Evening: 6 PM – 12 AM

What to show and not show

This visualization aims to show what’s happening at the DesignTO festival. It started off with only showing the dates from Jan 18-27. But after looking at the dates of each exhibit listing, I found that a lot was happening on the day before the festival officially started, the 17th. Many exhibits open from the 17th and host reception on that day. Reception is a very important time for people to connect, share ideas, and discuss the work made. Even though the main festival is from the 18th to the 27th, I decided to include the 17th as it had important information for visitors.

One of the very early iterations. This does not have Jan 17. Near the end of the entire design process, I added in Jan 17. The design process is never linear, it is a lot of back and forth.

In closing…

There were many variables that were shown:

  • The actual exhibit listing (numbered from 1-70 which corresponded to the festival guide)
  • Opening hours by splitting a 24-hour day into four pieces
  • Days the exhibit were open
  • If the exhibit was open outside of festival dates i.e. outside of Jan 18-27
  • Day of reception
  • If the exhibit is a ‘Festival Feature’ or a ‘DesignTO Project’

This project is highly layered with the variables represented and it is highly bespoke. I have found these types of projects to be very rewarding as I try to solve design challenges throughout the process.

As a side note, this project was not meant to say that the guide book or any other resource provided by the DesignTO team was lacking, in fact, they are fantastic. However, this project was meant to show the opportunity dataviz can introduce to the festival and the value it can bring to the wider culture of art and design.