Update: We produced a limited series of Season In Review 2013 Edition's. Refinements included team names on slides, a new banner, polished edges, and an updated app with 2013 highlights and data.
Baseball is different from the other big North American sports - it’s slower paced, has a long grueling season, and celebrates its love affair with data and statistics. A few of us at Teehan+Lax are avid baseball fans. We follow the long season in its entirety, take pleasure in armchair GM'ing, and revel in game statistics. For us, it’s a passion that is replayed year after year with little to show for it other than memories and video replays. So we thought to ourselves, could we create a memento to a season that captures all the drama, struggles, and highlights? That's what we set out to do.
We began with the idea that the key to telling a season's story was from numbers. With the right kind of data and so many games played in a year, patterns and trends should be easy to spot. After researching various statistics on Fangraphs and developing a poor understanding of sabermetrics, we decided to pick a relatively simple and relatable measurement - the number of games back a team is from first place over time. This measurement directly communicates how well a team is playing related to other teams in their division and thus provides valuable contextual patterns like slumps, winning streaks, and divisional see-saw battles over first place.
Fortunately, MLB Gameday data is accessible and fairly robust. We wrote a script that pulled down daily snapshots from the 2012 season and logged games back per team over time. The script also generated a PDF with a graph per team that we could easily send to the laser cutter. The 2012 season had some compelling storylines including the Red Sox late-season collapse, Oakland's unlikely ascent, and the horrible Astros. We were pleased to discover that these stories were reflected prominently in the graphs.
A challenge quickly developed for us - thirty team graphs is still a large amount of information. How could we organize the slides in a way that was elegant and could still be viewed all at once? We started to experiment with cutting and stacking the graphs in a clear acrylic plastic. It was a technique we learned during a different Labs project that involved reimagining 3D displays. The stacked graphs helped organize teams into leagues/divisions and also let the user focus on a single team while looking through the others. When fit upright on an opaque base, the overall structure not only conveyed information better, but the dozens of closely arranged seemingly-glass slides looked stunning. This was exactly the effect we were going for.
In order to make the graphs even more engaging and meaningful, we decided to add interactivity. Edge lighting clear acrylic is a proven old trick used primarily for signage. It relies on the internal reflection property of light where light effectively becomes trapped inside a transparent material. We had the idea of using a tablet to be a light source, control panel, and provide supplemental information. The base of our sculpture became a tablet case cover with a window to an interactive surface. The team slides came to life.
Season in Review is hard to categorize. It’s part data visualization experiment, part non-electronic digital product, and part tablet accessory. The combination of dynamically generated physical form, and taking advantage of pre-existing digital device characteristics offer an interesting alternative to crafting experiences. Ultimately, we feel we’ve built an object that helps tell the story of a year in baseball - a memento built from numbers.
The Major League Baseball silhouetted batted logo, league logos, and team logos are registered trademarks of Major League Baseball Properties, Inc.