Dataviz as Art: Are Toys Data Visualizations?


Yesterday, my wife and I attended the 10th Anniversary show for the Arizona Toy Con. I love to walk around and see many of the toys of my youth as well the toys my kids played with when they were young and they also cherished dearly.

According to The NPD Group earlier this year, Sales of all collectible toys — a category that also includes action figures, miniature figures and trading cards — surged 33 percent in 2016. That has helped the toy industry’s overall sales rise 5 percent last year. [1]

Which raise a question in my mind: Are the boxes or packaging toys come in data visualizations? To take that further, can a toy be a data visualization?


I may be really reaching here, but think of the DIKW pyramid, also known variously as the DIKW hierarchy (photo, right), wisdom hierarchy, knowledge hierarchy, information hierarchy, and the data pyramid. It refers loosely to a class of models for representing purported structural and/or functional relationships between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. “Typically information is defined in terms of data, knowledge in terms of information, and wisdom in terms of knowledge”. Richard Wurman discussed how we need data visualization to help us reduce our “information anxiety.” [2][3]

If you look at the photo of one of my favorite childhood toys below, the Batman Batmobile Switch ‘N Go Set by Mattel, visually I see the famous Batmobile with Batman and Robin zooming along in it (RIP Adam West). Mattel, the toy manufacturer, has taken all kinds of raw unstructured data about the toy and encoded it so they can then share information about this great toy on the packaging with us. The starbursts on the front of the box tell me that switches are everywhere, I have the ability to create unlimited layouts, and the Batmobile has 3-speeds.

The visual image on the box cover tells me a story of an example of how I can setup the track for my playtime adventure. I can relate this information to the many permutations of how I set up my Hot Wheels tracks in the past and it becomes knowledge to help me setup my Switch ‘N Go, and this becomes my wisdom to make actionable decisions and creatively set up my own layout.


What are your thoughts on this? Is the box or packaging of a toy a data visualization?

I have included many photos of toys from the 1960s to present day that hopefully warmed your heart and brings back wonderful memories of your childhood.

Best regards,



[1] Gregory Schmidt, Is It a Toy? Is It Art? Everyone Agrees It’s a Collectible, The New York Times, March 29, 2017,

[2] Cairo, Alberto, Functional Art, The: An introduction to information graphics and visualization, New Riders, Berkeley, CA, 2012.

[3] Wikipedia, DIKW Pyramid.

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