Peter G. Peterson Foundation

Data-driven visual storytelling explains the national debt with a real-time data feed.

The Story

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing awareness and accelerating action on America’s long-term fiscal challenges.

Our History

Wire Media was hired based on a referral regarding our expertise in visual storytelling. The project had a tight timeline and complex technical requirements. To best deliver the highest quality of work on a short timeline, with challenging requirements, we put together a team of specialists.

The Challenge

The Foundation had a hard deadline for when they would put up billboards in cities across the country to display the national debt in real time, updating once every 10 seconds. With a short turnaround time, we needed to write, design, and build a microsite and custom data feed for both the microsite and the billboards. The microsite also had to be SEO optimized to help meet the goal of taking a top spot in search terms around the national debt.

The Way Forward

The Foundation knew it wanted to provide a clear explanation of the national debt that a lay person could easily understand — and that they wanted the new microsite to top search engine rankings. They also planned to create awareness about the national debt by launching billboards in cities across the country that would display a live feed of the debt.

By the end of our planning process, the Foundation was clear on:

  • What to say
  • How to say it
  • How to illustrate complex data visually
  • How the live data feed would be able to update both the website and billboards accurately and on time

Wire Media reviewed all of the content and data, and got to work drafting a content outline and providing recommendations for what data to show and how to best frame it. We designed the microsite and editable charts and graphs to work on mobile and larger platforms, and provided oversight and coordination around development of the live feed ticker code. For the microsite we did the frontend development of the site and managed partners, Capellic and Software for Good, while they made the charts and graphs editable, interactive, and mobile-friendly, and wrote the live feed code.

The billboard will update the nation’s IOU every 10 seconds. [It] also will show the amount of debt owed by every man, woman and child ... each minute.

— Debra J. Saunders Las Vegas Review-Journal

The End Results

  • Live feed updates multiple displays: The live feed code accurately updates multiple billboards and the microsite.
  • Saved many hours of staff time: Redesigning the “maps” section of the main site included creating a way that staff could upload every one of the over 100 maps and related PDFs by simply uploading a spreadsheet in csv format. Previously, each map and PDF has to be edited manually.
  • Flexible content features allow rapid response site updates: By adding a component structure to the website, it’s now easier to add new features, create custom pages, stop and start pop-ups at the last minute, and other features.

The Future

We’ve since been hired to provide ongoing optimization and maintenance of the Foundation’s two websites and are planning work for a new data-driven project around financial literacy.


Custom microsite: copywriting, design, and development

Editable, mobile-friendly, interactive charts and graphs

Code to power real-time national debt tickers on website and billboards