Arlene Birt is an infodesigner, visual storyteller, public artist, and educator.
Arlene Birt is an infodesigner, visual storyteller, public artist, and educator.
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Arlene Birt runs Background Stories, an infodesign consultancy that translates complex ideas, systems, and metrics into clear visuals to help people understand sustainability. Her work visually explains the stories behind products and places. Birt is invited to speak internationally and works with organizations in the US, EU, and UK. Her work and public art—which rides the line between art and communication—has been featured in numerous publications.

 

Background Stories data visualization showing Better Futures Minnesota’s social return on investment and how the nonprofit transforms lives and creates social benefits in the community. Such visualizations can be used to inform policy making, fundraising, and investment efforts.


I came to MCAD’s entrepreneurial studies (ES) program as an undergraduate knowing I wanted to explore possibilities for a creative career that fell beyond the existing “silos” of design, advertising, technology, and fine art. My ideal career hadn’t yet been invented. This program launched me on a personal journey where I explored my passions for sustainability, visual communication, education, interactive technologies, and narrative storytelling—and how these passions could come together in a way that I could make a living from them. I got to invent my own career. There's nothing better than that.

Background Stories data visualization MCAD Until Now representing all 7,265 (known) MCAD graduates with felt balls. Each string of balls signifies one year in the school’s history.


After MCAD, I received my master’s from the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. I launched my own company, Background Stories, in 2006. I wanted to create visuals and experiences to help non-expert audiences comprehend complex social and environmental issues and relate to them emotionally. Today, we collaborate with clients all over the world and our work ranges from infographics, to storytelling visuals, to interactive experiences, to public art projects.

“I thoroughly enjoy coaching students along their own journeys to help them find their futures and invent their own successful careers.”

I teach courses in the ES program on information design, sustainability, working with clients, and designing with people in mind. The program offers students across the college the opportunity to hone their creative powers through real-life client experiences. Regardless of students’ personal creative focuses, ES courses give them the skills they need to turn their creative passions into businesses and find financial success doing what they love. I thoroughly enjoy coaching students along their own journeys to help them find their futures and invent their own successful careers.


Background Stories created a series of infographics that articulate the environmental benefit of reuse. This one features the ubiquitous paperclip as the hero of this reuse story.