A data visualization about of a long distance relationship through the form of paper airplanes.

SMS to Paper Airplanes

Visualizing my long distance relationship through computer generated paper airplanes.

  1. Course

    Program Development

  2. Supervision by

    Jens Wunderling

Data visualization exhibition of 100 paper airplanes


The project shows the sms communication between my wife and myself. Since we were in a long distance relationship and were living in two different countries text messages were often the easiest way to communicate. The challenge was to find a medium, which is variable and able to visualize the information of the text messages, but at the same time allows to keep the content private. For me the paper airplane was the perfect symbol for this scenario, because the text messages as well as travelling by plane were the most common ways for us to cover the distance.

Design Process

  1. Sketches of data visualization


    I started to sketch my first ideas and thought about ways to visually encode the given data.

  2. Explorational data visualization with generated airplanes

    Data Exploration

    With the idea of having airplanes as a representation in mind, I developed the first prototypes to see how it could work as a visual system.

  3. Paper prototypes for research purposes


    The first results weren't strong enough. I thought about the essence of the airplane form, that brought me to real paper airplanes. I learned the underlying math by building a lot of paper prototypes.

  4. Application to simulate paper airplanes

    Testing the system

    I wrote an application to visualize my gain knowledge and to test different encoding options.

  5. Generated paper airplanes


    Based on the learning of the simulation, I developed a further application that was able to create a blueprint for each paper airplanes base on a given message text.

  6. Blueprints of the paper airplanes


    The final step was the production of 100 paper airplanes for an exhibition.

  7. Exhibition of generated paper airplanes


    The exhibition was a great way to finalize the project. I was really happy to be able to show the audience my work and let them explore our communication with the right amount of protection of our privacy.


  1. Poster with generated airplanes

    369 Paper Airplanes

    The poster shows all airplanes based on short messages in one overview. The legend at the bottom helps you to decode the visual parameters. You can see how we started our relationship with longer messages and how we brought in more lovely words in our communication over time. You can also see how we processed and which pattern we established.


I learned quite a lot in this project. Jens Wunderling was a great teacher that pushed me beyond my comfort zone. The result was better than I hoped. A major role played the subject. Most of us can relate to a long distance relationship. Furthermore, the shift from digital to analog helped me a lot to find the essence and made it more poetic.

I got quite a lot of good feedback and features for example: Vice, The Next Web, Creative Application Network, infosthetics and Design made in Germany.

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