Infographic Of The Day: Nicholas Felton’s Students Hack Nike+ Data

With Professor Felton at the chalkboard, MFA students in interaction design paint a portrait of NYC runners — and show the limitations of Nike’s data.

Infographic Of The Day: Nicholas Felton’s Students Hack Nike+ Data

Nike+? “Kinda bullshit.” So concludes Allison Shaw in a cheeky infographic charting runners in New York — and the impossible things Nike+’s popular, but astonishingly fallible, tech claims they can do.



[Shaw’s project]

Shaw was one of 14 students in a recent MFA Interaction Design class at SVA on data visualization, led by none other than data-viz demigod Nicholas Felton. (Which, for burgeoning infographic designers, is the equivalent of young painters learning their trade from Matisse. Okay, we’re exaggerating. But only a little.)

Felton asked the class to wade through a massive, 500,000-point-plus data set about folks who track their exercise using Nike+ in New York City and to “just find something compelling,” he tells Co.Design in an email.

[Cooper Smith’s GPS timelapse video visualizes not just where people run, but when. Over the course of the day, streets, parks, and bridges light up with runners? footsteps. It’d be interesting to overlay this with a timelapse video of car and bus movements; we’re guessing they’d look pretty similar.]


They took heed. The visualizations paint a crystalline portrait of New York runners — of where they run, when, and how far — at the same time that they prove the limitations of the data and of Nike+, more generally.

Consider Shaw’s infographic, which records a litany of nonsensical data points: a reading 42.2 feet below sea level and another one at 8,900 feet; a clutch of runners who vanished without a trace near the Guggenheim during the NYC marathon last year; and the runner who was so slow, he actually traveled back in time, logging a negative pace.


[S. Koo’s project]



[Erin Moore’s project]

These, of course, are glitches in the technology. As Shaw explains, interference probably knocked the altitude meter off base and the disappearing runners didn’t actually disappear, their Nike+ sensors just ran out of batteries. “Presumably [these are] all problems that the data crunchers at Nike wrestle with,” Felton says. And, as Felton’s students learned, it’s the job of the designer to tell that story, in this case as a cautionary tale: If you think Nike+ is the ultimate measure of your workout, take it from the guy who time traveled, and think again.

[Images courtesy of SVA]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.