Welcome back to Stunning Proof!
Since I first read about the project last year on Maria Popova’s fascinating blog, Brain Pickings, I have been enthralled by Giorgia Lupi’s and Stefanie Posavec’s drawing with data project, Dear Data. And I have been thinking about a way to integrate this sort of project into one of my classes at The Portfolio Center.
For a year, the two designers ( Lupi is from Italy living in New York and Posavec is from the US living in London) exchanged postcards on which they drew personal data by hand. Both are award-winning information designers and by collecting and drawing their personal data and sending it in the form of postcards, the two became friends, according to their website: http://www.dear-data.com/theproject
Each week Lupi and Posavec collected data about their lives (on themes like compliments, negative thinking, items purchased, swearing, envy) both using an agreed upon prompt. They said the collection of data became a kind of ritual: on the front of the postcard there would be a representation of the weekly data, and on the back there was a key to understanding the drawing.
In September 2016, Princeton Architectural Press released a book titled Dear Data featuring all of the postcards with commentary. As Popova wrote in the introduction to the book:
“Ours is the golden age of Big Data, where human lives are aggregated into massive data sets in the hope that analysis of the aggregate would yield valid insight into the individual — an approach no more effective than taking an exquisite poem in English, running it through Google Translate to render into Japanese, and then Google-translating it back into English; the result may have the vague contours of the original poem’s meaning, but none of its subtle magic and vibrant granular beauty.
Lupi and Posavec reclaim that poetic granularity of the individual from the homogenizing aggregate-grip of Big Data.
What emerges is a case for the beauty of small data and its deliberate interpretation, analog visualization, and slow transmission — a celebration of the infinitesimal, incomplete, imperfect, yet marvelously human details through which we wrest meaning out of the incomprehensible vastness of all possible experience that is life.”
I decided to experiment using the format of Lupi and Posavec’s Dear Data postcards, breaking my Winter Quarter Message and Content Class into pairs and assigning them prompts to choose from each week for six weeks. The class has had so much fun with the project: learning about themselves and their peers, and how to represent collected data visually without the aid of the computer. I wanted to share some of the early results.
Top: (blue dots) Thank You’s
I learned that often our “thank you’s” are said more out of habit than out of meaning. I displayed the significance of the thank you based on size, so the blue circles are very intentional thank you’s, where the small orange and green dots represent politeness and services. Clearly the blue dots, though fewer in number, are much more visually and relationally powerful than their smaller counterparts.
Bottom:(green dots) is called My Week in Curse Words, and it documents my negative thoughts based on my verbal reaction to them.
I learned that negative thinking is a huge factor in my mood and attitude, and it takes effort to stifle those thoughts and reverse my thinking. For example, I often go into projects with fear nagging in the back of my head, and that affects how much I enjoy (or don’t enjoy) doing the project. I also learned that I curse a bit more than I thought I did!
Titles: Negative Thought Eruption (tracking negative thoughts) and A Compliment Observed (tracking compliments)
I tend to think of myself as a negative person, glass half empty kind of guy, but in tracking this information I learned that I am much less negative than expected. It was great to find opportunities to share positivity with others as well as keep tabs on negative thoughts and combat them as they arose.
Top: Where I Spent Time Bottom: A week of Negative Thoughts
In this post card I laid out a birds eye view of the areas that I spend most of my days, which is at my apartment or at school, right next door. Each day is denoted by a different color and the circle’s position represents the place meant of the negative thought. I learned that I tend to have more negative thoughts than i would like to about myself and I hold on to them for longer than I should. The lines spanning across the card represent that I carry these thoughts with me throughout the day. Overall, I have learned that I do not need to let negative thoughts control me and affect my day.
Jennifer Grimm and Casey Lovegrove
Top: Thanks you’s. Bottom: Negative Thoughts
One of the most interesting things I learned about myself was just how often I say thanks during a meal— there’s no harm in being gracious! Also, letting out a Shit or Fuck when negative thoughts pass feels mighty good, said Jennifer.
Casey said: For the week of tracking Thank You’s, it was encouraging to pay attention to how often I thanked strangers. The phrase comes out automatically as a courtesy, but when I was writing it down I realized how often I was truly thankful for a small gesture. The negative thoughts week, as shown on my postcard, shocked me with seeing how often those thoughts popped up over something outside my control or due to me not being patient with myself.
Last week was one of the hardest weeks I’ve had in a long time. It felt like all of these distractions were falling all around me like rain, some of them in tiny droplets or some of them in a constant steady stream. I felt like Totoro under a tiny leaf in Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor Totoro, but I felt like a big burly bear would fit the illustration better. It is so hard to “stay dry” and work diligently when it seems like the world around you is throwing so much at you.
My blue card is titled A Week of Food and my yellow card is titled Weekly Distractions.
The most interesting thing I learned about myself was how I like to express my ideas. With all the prompts, i found it was easiest to display my ideas by illustrating colorful visuals rather than using numbers, lines, etc. It was interesting to see this style develop across all my postcards.