Sharing a mutual obsession for “slow data” transmission, Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec—two highly driven data aficionados—began Dear Data in pursuit of building a meaningful friendship. The year-long, analog project resulted from their encounter in Minneapolis at the Eyeo Festival. Lupi, a New York-based design director and co-founder of Accurat, and Posavec, a London transplant and data specialist, agreed their professional and recreational parallelisms were worth keeping au courant, though the two live nearly 3,500 miles apart.
In their quest to “capture the essence of the life happening around them” by collecting and measuring a particular type of data about their lives (i.e., emotions, interests, beauty application, consumption) they are not only learning about each other’s unique idiosyncrasies and habits, but also creating a less intimidating, more approachable connection to “big data.” Their scaled down, “do-it-yourself” data sets reveal a humane aspect to organized information, often lost in large scale data processes. Every postcard sent via snail mail encapsulates the flaws, inconsistencies, and sensitivities analogous to Lupi and Prosavec’s exclusive individualism. The beauty lies in the drawings that surface from their data findings, a triumph of raw human expression and creativity. Or in other words, art.
I find myself looking for peculiarities in your data diaries. They seem the most revelatory—the sparse bits of info that find their way into the measure. Have you ever been surprised by your own findings?
We both are learning to pay attention, and to be aware of ourselves and our surroundings in the first place. We see Dear Data as a long-term self-investigative project able to touch several topics at the same time. Some weeks are particularly insightful to us, especially the ones that touch particular “buttons”, such as our obsessions; or the ones that are more personal, such as the relationship with our boyfriends/husbands for example. The major insight we are both having is learning to practice paying attention.
Have you ever been moved by the others findings?
What interests us the most is the composition of the ‘portrait’ of the other person through those 52 fragments of her personality, and every little bit of information or personal finding helps each other to picture the other person: her thoughts, her habits, her way of tackling the weekly topic. Thus we see every small weekly discovery as a new addition to our idea of the other person, rather than taking it as a peculiar surprise.
What is it about slowing down information that intrigues you?
We believe that there is a huge potential to explore a more human way of measuring personal experiences without reducing it to a simple quantification, and not only because of the output (i.e. hand crafted analog postcards).
With Dear Data we are also trying to add stories and emotions to our data collection, we every week include qualitative data rather than limiting ourselves to a quantification of our daily activities.
We like the idea of showing the “slowness” of these weekly effort that we do: we every week make the time to collect and categorize our data, to find a visual model – possibly different every time – to represent our stories, we draw everything by hand (n.b. and no “undo” button to push here), and we then abstract our choices and build a legend in the back of our postcards. It is our way of ‘virtually’ spending some time together, thorough our data.
Generally speaking, 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!). 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.
How do you keep the data from controlling your lifestyle? Or is acknowledging the information and changing for better something you wish to achieve?
We are both data visualization designers, and we both share a “hand-crafted” approach to data visualization: in our work we rarely start from standard visual models to represent data but instead try to add a personal and customized touch every time.
However, we didn’t really know each other before starting Dear Data. We met in person for the second time last June at the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis (http://eyeofestival.com/) where we were both speaking (Giorgia) and holding a workshop (Stefanie) on the topic of sketching and drawing with data; and – over drinks – we decided that we had to find a way to collaborate!
With Dear Data we wanted (and we want) to challenge the increasingly widespread assumption that “big data” is the ultimate and definitive key to unlocking, decoding and describing people’s public and private lives.
We want to explore the role that data can have in understanding personal experiences and in being able to make stories of people’s lives from it: 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, human lives.
What are you going to do after this interview?
Giorgia: I will have a walk and enjoying the (finally) nice weather in New York.
Stefanie: I will be speaking to students this afternoon, and then tomorrow I am looking forward to a long cycle ride with my husband to celebrate spring in London.
Giorgia moved from Milan, Italy to New York in 2012 and is still in her honeymoon with the city. She got her M-Arch at FAF in Ferrara, Italy, and became a licensed architect. Stefanie moved from Denver, Colorado to London in 2004 and never left (her accent has gone wrong somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, admittedly). After receiving an MA Communication Design from Central St. Martins, she worked as a book cover designer but eventually went freelance to focus on data-related design. You can view more of their work at dear-data.com.