life counts by seasons

In early 2019, I was doing a poor job balancing relationships with work. As a personal project, I created this visual reminder to value family interactions as a limited-time opportunity.

Each colored bar represents the probable lifespan for one of my nearest and dearest. (Background columns mark decades.)

The idea of quantifying our time together was inspired in part by Tim Urban’s grids in Wait But Why—especially the final visuals and takeaways* in “The Tail End”.

[*1: Location matters. 2: Be intentional. 3: Treasure what’s left.]

The left half shows time past.
The future is shrouded in a mist of uncertainty.
In 2019 we were in the middle.
… And yes, that bar in the center is my cat.

In addition to finite volume of days, however, I also wanted to keep changing seasons of life in view.

My parents’ generation is well past the halfway point of eight to nine decades. Grids and bars both show clearly that our time together is running out.

My nephews, by contrast, have barely passed their first decade. But I feel keenly (when I think about it) that their childhood years will go by all too quickly.

To show the value of every season, I experimented with assigning a different color to each lifestage.

My first try, a rainbow progression, had too much going on visually to be a good motivational reminder.

For the second attempt, I tried pairing shades of just green for youth and red-purple for maturity (on analogy with flowers and fruit). I liked the concept, but two hues were not quite enough.

My final choice begins with intensifying orange for the energy of youth and culminates in purple for the majesty of age:

In retrospect, it reminds me of this pairing from a favorite song:

It was the fire of the young ones
It was the wisdom of the old

Casting Crowns, “City On A Hill
[audio]

Recalling elementary-school art lessons (mixing paints, layering crayons), I like that the two framing colors both overlap with the center hue (all having a high level of red), but are blended with blue on the right and yellow (pigment) or green (pixels) on the left.

This combination of continuity and differentiation reminds me that each of us stays the same person but also changes throughout our seasons of life.

In addition to symbolic value, the triad is reasonably good for color-weak accessibility, as I learned a few months later upon discovering the marvelous 2015 Viridis color map project. (See their Option A: Magma–Option C: Plasma.)

Last but not least, looking at this gradient just makes me happy!

So as 2019 turned into 2020 and I continued thinking about vision and hindsight, it made sense to adopt these life-season hues as my site colors, now associating them broadly with past, present, and future.