How big is the number 983? And how big is the number 983 compared to, say, 74? Unless you have a calculator in-hand, these are tough ideas to conceptualize. And even if I tell you that 983 is 13.3 times larger than 74, what’s that really mean? How does 13.3x look or feel? I sure don’t know.
FatFonts is a simple idea in presenting the relative values of numbers. By Miguel Nacenta, Uta Hinrichs, and Sheelagh Carpendale from the University of Calgary, they’re a series of numbers that grow proportionately darker by their value–the bolder the number, the greater its value.*
So 1 is skinny and washed out, while 9 is rotund, containing 9x the dark pixels. But if you think 1 is slim, you should take a look at 0. Well, technically you can’t even see 0 since it has no value whatsoever. The resulting effect is the same series of numbers we all know and love, presented with an updated intrinsic value. Even if you had no idea that 8 was 3 more than 5, you could see the distinction through FatFonts’ meta presentation. And while that particular use case may not help all that many people in the world–most of us can count from 0 to 9–FatFonts can do something else that’s pretty cool: paint a picture with numbers.
Rather than deploying your traditional green to red heat map, FatFonts can represent elevation and similar values through a grid of the numbers themselves. In this topographical map of Sicily, mountains become dark peaks of 8s and 9s, while lakes disappear as empty white. And while, no, the effect might not be quite as beautiful as your typical topographical map, FatFonts is offering us a chance to conceptualize precise numerical data without the number crunching–as if we’re computers that can absorb precision logic from just a few bits of information.
It’s kind of like you’re Neo from The Matrix, except nobody is firing bullets at you, and Sicilian cartography reveals very few insights into the nature of kung fu. But as for the whole computers have taken over the world thing? Yeah, that happened. None of this is real, so go ahead and clock out early today. Make yourself the free time to stare at some maps.
*Oh, and for the real digit dorks in the audience who are wondering why some numbers are actually comprised of two or three digits stacked on top of one another, know that each subsequent digit is a magnitude smaller, meaning a nine inside an eight inside a four would be read “489.” Apparently the pixel values still stay proportionately correct!