Local man modernizes taxes with an alluring twist - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Business

Local man modernizes taxes with an alluring twist

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Posted: Monday, May 9, 2011 4:00 pm | Updated: 5:14 pm, Fri Jun 3, 2011.

Now that the brunt of tax season has passed, many people may be left wondering how exactly their federal taxes were allocated.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Anil Kandangath jumped on the opportunity to decipher this unspecified topic when Google announced a formal challenge in February; two months later, and on tax day, he won that challenge.

The Data Viz Challenge was created by Google and the non-profit art and technology center Eyebeam to create appealing tax data. They invited contestants to create an interactive webpage that explained how federal taxes are used.

Kandangath, 32, is an electrical engineer and had already been working on a website that fulfilled the requirements of the Data Viz Challenge late last year.

So he "checked out what Google had to say" about this opportunity when it was announced on the company's official blog Feb. 22.

"Something I found out from conversations with people," Kandangath said, "(is) even though we all pay taxes, the tax form is so complicated."

To clear up any perplexity in this situation, he decided his project would accomplish two main goals: Explain how the federal tax system works and show how the money was distributed.

Kandangath's visual representation of this accomplished those goals and tacked on simplicity and alluring graphic design to appeal to a mass audience.

His "Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?" webpage features an enlarged headshot of George Washington from the dollar bill, but winking at viewers. Website visitors enter how much they made that year, the status they filed as, and then click the "Where did my tax dollars go?" button.

They are taken to a page displaying the total taxes paid and a pie chart breaking down the destinations of those tax dollars - funds like Social Security, National Defense and Medicare, for example. By clicking on each slice of the pie, more detailed information is given.

Kandangath said he had to do a lot of research, even with the help of the online tool whatwepayfor.com, which provides public tax distribution data.

"I was also able to create something where aesthetics were crucial," Kandangath said. "I was able to put my passion for making things look good to use."

He wanted to "take people on a journey and make sure they remember steps along the way."

And the jury for the challenge received Kandangath's message.

His project was "a personal favorite of a few of the judges," noted Stephanie Pereira, Eyebeam's associate director of learning and engagement. "(The judges) felt they actually learned something from this entry."

The pleasing nature of the colors and simplicity of the project was also valued by the jury.

"(They) especially appreciated that at no point while interacting with it do you ever lose the big picture," Pereira said.

But Kandangath's project reached more than just the judges; it gained national attention. On tax day, he was featured on "The Takeaway," a morning news program from WNYC and PRI on the East Coast.

Kandangath said that he is considering the possibility of extending his project's availability to other countries with different tax processes.

And for now, he is left to ponder an important question: "Do I do another project or do I try to make this one even more useful?"

To see where your tax dollars went, visit Kandangath's website at www.wheredidmytaxdollarsgo.com. Go to www.ecogito.net for his blog and other projects.

Erin Sullivan is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a junior at Arizona State University.

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