• Steven Heller

A Data Viz Diary

Designer Stefanie Posavec, who works in London, and Giorgia Lupi, design director of Accurat in NYC, are data diarists. Since September they have sent each other weekly data viz postcards chronicling their daily lives. They call it “Dear Data, a Year Long Analog Data-Drawing Project.” And here they are to tell more about this enticing project.

Giorgia Lupi

Stefanie Posavec

What appeals most to you about data viz?

Stefanie: I enjoy data viz mainly because I enjoy discovering and making visible the hidden patterns that are inherently part of every aspect of our world, and because I enjoy the challenge of creating design systems for ever-changing, ever-variable situations.

Giorgia: I’ve come to believe that pure beautiful visual works are somehow relevant in everyday life because they can become a trigger to get people curious to explore the contents these visuals convey. I enjoy designing (hopefully!) aesthetically compelling data visualizations that are rigorous data-wise, I enjoy producing visuals with a strong structural sense. Personally, I see data visualization as the combination of my ‘artistic’ (or, better said, emotional!) side and my very rational and scientific one; I have a background in architecture and my mind needs to structure and organize information, but my eyes and my spirit need to see and invent unexpected visuals every time, I guess.

What triggered this project?

Stefanie: We had only met each other in person twice when we decided to embark on this project together. We were both speaking at The Eyeo Festival last summer, and a plan to collaborate was hatched (as they usually are) over a few beers!

Giorgia: We both have a very analog approach to working with data, which is relatively unique in our field, so we thought it would be interesting to work together to create a data project that showcased our interest in the analog, using a slow, manual method of rendering data.

Stefanie: We also took the biggest constrain as a design one: One of us lives in London and the other in New York. How can we exchange our data-drawings? The idea of becoming ‘data pen pals’ and sending postcards to each other across the sea seemed very compelling, and we decided to take in the risk that some of our postcards might get lost or damaged during their travel.

Giorgia: “Dear Data” became our way of getting to know each other—through our personal data on different topics every week, and through analog design artifacts to deliver as ‘gifts’ to the other.

How do you stay so disciplined?

Stefanie: It’s good to have another person involved to help keep the project going, as you don’t want to let them down. And it’s also good if that person is incredibly organized. … I think Giorgia is definitely the driving force that keeps us ticking along!

Giorgia: I second Stefanie on the importance of having another person involved. Not on her latter statement. It’s also useful that we fixed a strict schedule and plan: We would draw our postcards every weekend, send the postcard every Monday, we would get to know each other through data for 52 weeks (one year). On top of that, we both love the very act of drawing, and since we work digitally most of our time we are happy that we are finally making time for that every weekend! Also, tacking such a big project and carrying it through this point contributed to the atmosphere of growing and learning that I want to keep in my life, and having realized that definitely helps to stay disciplined!

What is the impact that you want this to have? Are we all as human beings a collection of data just waiting to be recorded?

Giorgia: With this project, we are trying to show how data is not scary, is not necessarily “big,” but is ever present in everyone’s lives, and one needs to know almost nothing about data to start collecting and representing it (just a pencil, a notebook and a postcard!).

Stefanie: We want to explore the role that data can have in how we understand personal experiences and people’s lives: Data is often considered to be very impersonal, but this project aims to highlight the opposite through the exploration of using something seemingly ‘cold’ to communicate messy, emotional aspects of being human.

Giorgia: We would love to reach an audience that is not only made of designers or data geeks; in fact, we want to contrast the impersonality that data might communicate and the increasingly widespread assumption that “big data” is the ultimate and definitive key to unlocking, decoding and describing people’s public and private lives.

Stefanie: We are all made of small and big data, quantitative and qualitative ones. Our data-gathering process is more labor-intensive than just using standard metrics derived from technological devices: The data we record from our everyday lives often can’t be gathered in any other way but through human, manual capture.

How long will the project continue?

Stefanie: The project started on Sept. 1, 2014, and will end Sept. 1, 2015 (but we already anticipate with sorrow the end of it!).

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