As we remain distanced, with a pandemic raging and craving physical connections, it is hard to tell one day from the next, let alone understand what we’re feeling and seeing. Let’s take a cue from this week’s Artist Project: collecting and drawing data can be a powerful tool to center ourselves, deal with daily anxiety, and practice empathy and gratitude.
In 2014, after meeting at a conference in Minneapolis, and feeling the beginning of a great friendship, information designers Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec decided to get to know each other via their favorite language: data. Each week for one year, Lupi and Posavec gathered information focusing on aspects of their lives—from the books in their homes and their to-do lists, to the complaints they’d voiced during the past seven days and the smells they’d encountered. They each rendered the data they had gathered that week in a visualization hand-drawn on a postcard that would travel all the way to the other side of the Atlantic—Lupi sending from New York and Posavec from London. On the front of the postcard there would be a representation of the data, and on the other, a detailed explanation of how to read the visualization: the legend or code needed to understand the drawing. The resulting 104 postcards are the record of a budding, now rock-solid friendship. They are also a surprising window onto the field of data visualization—normally considered impersonal, functional, and exquisitely digital, and here instead rendered emotionally expressive, gestural, and intimate. Giorgia Lupi explained this take on information design in her 2017 manifesto “Data Humanism.” In 2016, MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design acquired this project, now titled Dear Data (2015).
Together with Lupi and Posavec, we have selected five topics from five weeks of Dear Data that are relevant in our current predicament. The designers have drafted prompts for each one so that we can all join in. For the first time since the end of the project, they have also reunited to create two additional postcards around a timely topic: lockdown connections. From April 18 to April 24, they recorded their interactions with friends, family, neighbors, and friendly strangers and illustrated them in a set of visualizations that show the different life lines that we create, even when we are physically far away. We hope that you will feel inspired by at least one of these exercises to create your own!
Giorgia Lupi, Stefanie Posavec. Dear Data: A week of lockdown connections. 2020. Courtesy the artists
Dear Data: Week 11 (Emotional Data/A Week of Emotions/Feelings). 2014
1. A week of emotions and feelings
For one week (or one day if that’s more manageable), set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour you are awake. When you hear the alarm, pause and make a note of your primary emotion. Do you feel calm, or excited? Anxious, confused, irritated, or something else? Next, try adding additional contextual details: who you were with, what you were doing, if something specific caused the feeling, etc.
Dear Data: Week 25 (My Friends/A Week of Friends). 2015
2. A week of friends
Who are the 15 to 20 people you consider your closest friends? Write down their names, along with the things you talk about and the type of friend, and draw them. You can be creative and personal: add details about how long you have known them for, how often you have talked to them during this time of social isolation, or how their presence in your life makes you feel.
Dear Data: Week 27 (Media/A Week of Media). 2015
3. A week of media
For one day or one week, make a note of what you read, watch, or listen to while staying at home, keeping track of the different topics and types of media. Is it a book? TV? Streaming service? Remember to be honest about your heavy social media or lockdown news habits. You can add details about how you felt after reading. Empowered? More anxious? Inspired? Note whether you think you should have done something else with that time instead.
Dear Data: Week 31 (Positive Feelings/A Week of Positive Thoughts). 2015
4. A week of positive thoughts
Spend one day or one week collecting every positive thought you have about something or someone. Make a note of what sort of positive feeling it was (e.g., love, gratitude, friendship, etc.) and who or what you were thinking about. And try to have more of them!
Dear Data: Week 32 (The Sounds I Can Hear/A Week of Sounds). 2015
5. A week of sounds
Set a timer for 30 minutes, then during that time be mindful, listen carefully, and make a note of every sound you hear. When the time is up, think about how to categorize your sounds. Were they from nature, animals, people, machines...or even you? Then draw them.
Dear Data: A week of lockdown connections. 2020
6. And two new very special postcards after a five-year hiatus…a week of lockdown connections
How do you stay connected to people during lockdown? For one day or one week, keep track of all the ways you keep in touch with, reach out to, or interact with friends, family, neighbors, and essential workers in order to celebrate these human connections—even if they are few and far between, or often digital! Add details about the type of connection and how it made you feel. Did you see them through a screen or only talk to them?
Need some help? Here’s how you normally go about data collection and drawing:
Begin with a big question. What do you want to know and explore? Then enrich the data by asking additional, smaller, contextual questions.
Gather the data. Collect your data however you choose, all the while being immediate, truthful, and consistent in your data gathering.
Spend time with your data. Before drawing, analyze your data to search for patterns and understand it at a deeper level.
Organize and categorize. Simplify your data by grouping it into larger categories based on what will best communicate your story.
Find the main focus. Starting with the patterns discovered in your data, decide your main story focus: this helps decide the layout of a data-drawing.
Get visually inspired. Use the aesthetic qualities of images you are attracted to as visual inspiration for the drawing.
Draw! Sketch and draft ideas, then draw the final picture.
Draw the legend. Make sure that every design element that represents data is listed so the reader understands what everything means.
Show us your work on social media with the hashtag #deardata!
Dear Data: A week of lockdown connections. 2020