Kudos to the New York Times.
They could get kudos for a lot of things (being arguably the best newspaper in America, though I personally prefer the Los Angeles Times, despite its recent tabloid-esque redesign). But today, I applaud them for their awesome “How do you feel…?” word maps.
First tested during the 2008 presidential election, the word maps at NYTimes.com ask you to type in a word that describes how you feel at the current moment, regarding a certain event or subject; i.e., the economy, the election, the inauguration. This fancy poll/art piece/technological marvel then adds your word to the pot, displaying everyone’s word in a wonderful sans serif scrolling marquee of hope, fear, nerves, optimism—whatever the nation (or NYTimes.com readers, at least) are feeling about the state of the nation.
The geniuses behind this new-fangled cross between Twitter, modern art, exit polls, and the op-ed page are the New York Times Interactive News Collaborative Staff (even their title is innovative). Aron Pilhofer, Andrew DeVigal, Steve Duenes, Matthew Ericson, and Gabriel Dance have created an incredible amalgam of sleek design, instant-gratification technology, and nationwide community that is a wonder to watch. Scrolling across the screen in ubiquitous Helvetica type (side note: you must watch the documentary Helvetica, absolutely required viewing) it gave me chills to see “determined” and “disgusted” scroll across the screen next to each other in huge letters in the “economy” word map. Assuming that the largest, blackest words are the most-selected, it is heartening to know that such a huge percentage of people feel “optimistic” about the economy, as the world scrolls across the top line, bigger than any other word, over and over.
On Election Day, it was moving to watch “scared” and “hopeful” scroll by in large letters, and on Inauguration Day, “proud” held the top spot, larger, darker, bolder than all the other words.
The best and most telling feature of these word maps is the fact that you can choose to display words selected on certain dates— today is especially interesting, considering the announcement of the results from the bank stress tests—and by the employed or unemployed for the economy word map, by McCain supporters or Obama supporters for the election word map, and by Democrats or Republicans for the inauguration word map. Words in red, posted by the unemployed, scroll by on the economy word map: frustrated, bored, uncertain. In green, the employed are exhausted, worried, scared, wary. On the election word map, the Obama supporters posted in blue, anxious, excited; the McCain supporters in red, scared, nervous. On inauguration day, words from the Democrats scrolled by in blue, proud, excited, words from the Republicans in red, angry, scared.
But no matter the subject, no matter the position, always that one word, in all colors, the biggest and boldest: “hopeful.”
The power of this beautiful application is that it seems to be a real toe-dip in the emotional waters of the nation, apart from the exit polls and the talking heads, and, on top of that, it is beautiful. Simple, sleek, and, the best part—it lets the true power of the words shine. And that’s the most important part of any design involving type. The message should be clear, readable, and it should make you feel something.