Pivot Press

The idea of “data journalism” has been buzzing around a lot lately. The concept is being most prominently tested out by ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight. In January I was lucky to attend a Storytelling with Data workshop to learn more about how numbers, analysis and writing can come together.

Later that month, I found myself with a great opportunity to try out what I had learned. My design professors were challenging us to spend the semester developing a publishing house and creating its first book. And with that, Pivot Press, a publishing house for stories based on data and told by real people, was born.

Pivot Press logo detail.

I started with this idea, creating a place for long-from data journalism, and took the first step by picking its name. I settled on the word “pivot” for a couple of reasons: it represented the pivot between data and story that I wanted to evoke and it related to the new-ness of this type of narrative (pivoting to a new type of storytelling).

The natural next step in any design project is to create the visual language for the idea. The logo, which is detailed above, stands for the “P” in “Pivot” while also representing the two sides of data journalism: the lines stand not only for lines of text, or writing, but also depict a bar graph, or data. Flipped on its side, the whole shape also resembles a hand, which relates to the “human” side of the data stories I would publish.

With any logo and identity project also comes the full branding package. I created a simple visual system that applies the Pivot Press logo to letterhead, business cards and posters. No matter the object, the effect of the brand remains consistent with the message of Pivot Press.

Pivot Press branding.
Book release poster.

With the basics of Pivot Press complete, I took on the challenge of turning this idea into reality: creating the first book. The subject of this first data analysis turned narrative? Venice – the city I was living and studying in for the semester. But this wouldn’t be your average book about Venice. I would mine data on population and tourism in Venice, while at the same time seeking out stories from citizens, commuters, students and tourists themselves. Going deeper than the surface, my goal was to explore the story of Venice’s many problems in the 21st century as told by data and people.

This was admittedly a huge challenge for me. The timeline alone made things tough – I went from start to finish in about 3 weeks. But on top of that, I had to figure out how to organize and analyze ten years worth of population and tourism data. Needless to say, as a creative person, Excel and R-Studio weren’t my best friends. To gather the narrative piece of my book, though, I also had to conduct a number of interviews in Italian, which was difficult even for someone who had been studying the language for 2 years.

In the end, this book turned out to be a huge learning experience. I found meaningful trends and insights through data analysis, uncovered compelling narratives about life in Venice and came away with a deep understanding of the city’s many challenges – environmental, economic and cultural.

The most important, and perhaps humbling, thing I learned from this project is that data journalism isn’t that revolutionary. Data, in fact, is simply a fancy word for documents. Whether those documents come in written or numerical form is largely irrelevant to the journalistic process, which remains the same. So while my publishing house did chart new territory as a combination of numerical data, presented visually, and human narrative, I found the end result to be at its essence a piece of journalism.