'Dear Data' Shows What's Possible When Information Meets Art

We log every movement of our bodies via Fitbit. We track every penny of our spending through Mint. There are apps devoted to tracking your menstrual cycle, your child’s location, your diet, your sleep, your sex life, your time.

With data visualization and infographics becoming an increasingly central part of the media we consume daily, the ability to analyze the details of our own lives is seductive. It’s also, with the proliferation of expensive gadgets and user-unfriendly apps, a bit intimidating.

Dear Data, a data visualization art collaboration between Giorgia Lupi, co-founder and design director at Accurat, and Stefanie Posavec, an information designer, shows a gentler, more human side to the data craze. “We are trying to show how data is not scary, is not necessarily ‘big,’ but is ever present in everyone’s lives,” Lupi and Posavec told The Huffington Post.

Stefanie's Week 14 -- a week of productivity/schedules

Since Sept. 1, 2014, Lupi and Posavec have been sending each other weekly, hand-illustrated postcards visualizing data about their own lives tracked over the past week. Week 5, for example, found them sketching quantitative representations of the purchases each had made that week; Week 10 tracked their to-do lists. On the back, in addition to the necessary postage and addresses, they squeezed in elaborate keys to their infographics.

Giorgia's Week 14 -- a week of productivity/schedules

The project highlights the possibilities offered by creative design. Each week, the designers’ postcards show two highly distinct visualizations, despite the similarity of their data set. Where Lupi may have chosen to use a scattered assortment of disconnected images, Posavec may have a series of flowers assembled from lines representing data.

Giorgia's Week 4 -- a week of mirrors

The medium Lupi and Posavec chose -- hand-made postcards sent via snail mail -- adds a warmth and personality to their data visualizations, a form we typically associate with cold numbers and clean, computer-generated graphics. “There is a huge potential to explore a more human way to measure personal experiences without reducing it to a simple quantification,” Lupi and Posavec explained.

Stefanie's Week 4 -- a week of mirrors

This may mean dropping the easy-to-use tracking gadgets: “Our data-gathering process is more labor-intensive than just using standard metrics derived from technological devices," they admitted. But looking to the data that eludes smartphone sensors and Jawbone bracelets allows us to uncover patterns in more personal aspects of our lives.

The designers began the project as a way of getting to know each other. With Posavec London-based and Lupi in New York, an in-person friendship was impractical, but they were struck by their shared interests and artistic values. By exchanging postcards that capture the personal minutiae of their lives, as well as exploring different forms of data visualization, they created a friendship as well as a striking collaboration.

Where it all began -- Giorgia's week 1 card.

Data visualization carries an inherent tension between the need for accurate representation of data and the aim of creating an aesthetically lovely design. This tension creates a palpable ebb and flow in the visual component of the project, as well as in the clarity of the data shown. "We shift and move our focus in order to experiment and better understand how to work with data both for insight and aesthetic, and feed this knowledge back into our work," explained Posavec. The goal, of course, is a balanced marriage between the two. "Beauty and functionality together achieve extraordinary outcomes!" said Lupi.

With the end of the project scheduled for Sept. 1, 2015, the two will complete the collaboration with 52 postcards apiece, “a mosaic of one year of our lives, in data and drawings,” as they put it.

  • Stefanie, Week 1: A week of clocks
  • Stefanie, Week 7: A week of complaints
  • Giorgia, Week 7: A week of complaints
  • Stefanie, Week 9: A week of Stefanie's interactions with Giorgia
  • Giorgia, Week 9: A week of Giorgia's interactions with Stefanie