Der Spiegel - Time Compression
Visualizing 70 years of news media covers
How do news media aesthetics change over time? This project explores this issue by displaying the changing nature of news media cover images. Using the example of the printed German news weekly »Der Spiegel«, a new title image is algorithmically generated for each decade since 1950 from the original cover images in each period.
The basic idea was to combine all the cover images of a 10-year period into one representative image for this decade which would allow to see changes in the overall aesthetics (i.e. changes in color, layout, type, etc.). Each »time-compressed« image for a decade is generated programatically in the following way:
»Der Spiegel« is published once a week with a new cover image, i.e. 52 times a year. Thus, for each decade there is a total of 520 published images, which I have gathered and transformed into cropped slices of 1px width and the original images' height. These slices are then combined to make up a new cover image with a total width of 520px.
The horizontal position of each slice in the new cover image is determined by the time it was published in that decade. This means we can read the new image from left to right and see temporal patterns over time. We can even see the overall change in aesthetics by comparing all new generated images.
The beauty of these generated images is that one can discover aesthetic trends even without looking at the original images. For example, one can clearly observe the prevalence of covers primarily composed of portraits and headshots in the 1950s and 60s, with the specific cover of that decade exhibiting almost a »ghost-like« aura, composed of many different faces painted by the underlying data.
Other examples: In the period from 1960–1970 there was a clear shift from black and white to color images in the cover styles and from the 70s through the 90s there was an apparent preference for bright yellow as an accentuating title color. The background color of the magazine from dark to bright red can also clearly be seen in the period from 2000-2010.
But even beyond the actual »data content«, these images seem to open up room for imagination. Just by looking at one image for a longer period of time, one almost certainly will create images in the mind by forming shapes out of colors and shadows, similar to a stereogram.