PopTech is a unique network of the world’s most inspired—and inspiring—leaders, thinkers, and doers, dedicated to improving the way people live. Once a year, 700 of these leaders in science and technology, social entrepreneurship, design and the arts, media, and more, converge for several days in the seaside town of Camden, Maine. There they plant the seeds of initiatives that will affect the lives of millions worldwide.

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Information overload
For the 2011 conference, themed “The World Rebalancing,” PopTech asked conference sponsor Hot to collaborate with partners PwC, the UN Global Pulse, Jana, and The New York Times R&D Lab to create a companion iPad experience. Each partner would contribute research and information about people, places, and problems, with Hot designing the user interface. The data was rich, intriguing. Which, surprisingly, was the problem. How could the team weave CEO survey results (from thousands of business leaders), daily life questionnaire answers (from tens of thousands of respondents), and a decades-long news archive into a single experience that both made sense and made an impression? What did the numbers mean in the context of PopTech’s work? To engage, the app would require more than an attractive interface. So the team began turning the written reports and spreadsheets into data visualizations, to communicate multiple facts at once. Patterns began to emerge.

Numbers tell tales
PopTech wanted the app to extend their mission, highlight emerging trends, and deliver unexpected insights. It had to pulse with ideas, not just facts. With the facts beginning to cohere, as data visualization design began, questions of form and attitude arose. From video interviews with PopTech fellows to a “memory map” of news items, the content incited as much delightful discovery as it did sober contemplation. So should the experience evoke a gallery? A magazine? A playground? The answer, it turned out, was all three. Still, the app’s pieces lacked a common thread. Though the numbers were dense and the concepts weighty, the solution was surprisingly simple: past, present, and future. Applying the lens of time transformed the content from a series of interactions into a single story (in many voices) about where we’ve been, who we are, and where we’re going.

It takes a village
PopTech fosters collaboration to make things happen. Appropriately, building their iPad app required input from every discipline at Hot. Everyone—partners included—worked beyond traditional roles, realizing new skills and unexpected insights. In the end we launched an experience that we hope inspires the same. Blending geography, history, and ethnography across multi-layered, dynamic graphics, the PopTech app lets users discover surprising information whose implications are paving the way for how we live and how we can live.

Click here to download the app.

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