Giorgia Lupi: Finding Humanity in Data


what are the words that come to your
mind if I tell you that today I’m going to talk about data technology algorithm
big truth control what if I told you instead the data can be an incredibly
powerful design and narrative very human material that you can write with and
design with in fact through my professional and personal practice over
the year I’ve learned that data not only can describe the objective world but it
can especially illustrate try help us ask prosperous trade aspects of our
lives and in our world that we really hardly associate with numbers but I will
get there I’m an information designer and for the past 10 years I’ve worked
with data qualitative and quantitative big and small data that organizations
already have or crafted by myself and together with my team at my firm we
every day shape the way our clients interact with this information through
data visualization and through building interactive experiences with these
visualizations and I will show you a recent montage of our work to give you a
sense of what we do where think that every shape color sizes and attributes
in the images that you’re seeing are actual representation of data points in
their dimensions so as I mentioned you four over the
years my work we showed which I’ll show you in depth in a second let me to
question the actual definition of data and I’d like to start with a pretty
fundamental consideration that data doesn’t exist and if we think about it
we all know it right data is an instrument that we human beings created
to observe record an archival reality it’s a partial abstraction of reality a
proxy for something else but it’s never the real thing and following this last
point well then data is imperfect our world is mostly random and messy and
collecting data doesn’t make it more perfect or more controllable and lastly
data is human because even if it comes from a sensor or technological device
well a human being designed that sensor and decided what to collect and what to
leave out so then a driven doesn’t make the data driven doesn’t mean a mistake
fully true it never did and it never will and it might all really sine
obvious to you but when working with data it’s really it’s really easy to
fall into the idea that they are objective collection of facts
overarching truth that will solve our problems it’s easy to get fascinated by
the numbers like in the technologies that we use to gather them that we lose
we risk to lose the point the data is one of the ways we have to see and
record our reality a lens a filter that we can apply and we can it can really
help us discover and make visible the hidden patterns of our world but it
should never be the focus it should really never be the point and this is
how I want to talk about data today how I want to talk
today as a designer I’m covering a world of sometimes imperfect and intentionally
handcrafted data that are the ones that can tell the most compelling stories and
that can be used really as a design tool to create value and I will guide you
through how I discover the beauty and humanity in data and data visualization
how I’m experimenting with it and also how we gotta–we envision for the role
of data in the future so I’m taking you now back in 2012 in Italy where we were
originally from where we started to collaborate with a Sunday cultural
supplement of the main Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera but from 2012 to
2014 we designed more than 40 data analysis and visualizations and the
purple of that column in the newspaper was explicit to explore what can be done
with data journalism and data visualization to push the boundaries of
the discipline and also to make a stress test how much a complexity can our
mirror absorb and so every week we looked for data on a main topic
combining and overlaying different information on cultural and social
phenomena with many layer of context and then we visualized all of this data with
a unique language created specifically for the data that we found as you can
see from these previews so rather than just looking at numbers and visualizing
these numbers directly we focus on the reality represented by the data and from
there we imagine how to distill these stories into how we represented it we
also started to experiment on how data visualization can almost become a
meditative language to decode for the readers and also to learn that
complexity can be our friend and we can use design to let people in and invite
them to spend really some times with data always providing a legend so a key
to understand how to dig into these novel languages and personally I loved
breaking free from the boundaries of the typical bar chart and pie charts that
many times cannot really convey the depth of the stories that we find in
data it was illuminating to me and it really it helped me still define now how
I work with data in 2019 but we can of course blur these boundaries even
further beyond the to the environment and beyond the places that
we normally expect to see data in a recent collaboration with Starbucks we
built a hundred foot wide data wall that was carved and etched in brass for the
first Starbuck Weiser browser in Italy that opened in Milan last September
exploring the combination of large physical spaces and conventional
building materials and virtual environment so this wall tells the story
of Starbuck the journey of Starbucks with a timeline of the most important
moments in the brand history a map of all of the places that have been
fundamental for the company and also a background data layer that explains the
coffee making process for the most popular blends and to make this stories
really accessible for visitors we also designed and developed a mobile app that
through augmented reality really brings this data to life adding a digital layer
that interacts directly with the physical space of the wall and where the
wall is turned into a living artwork with access to extra content that can be
experienced in this immersive way and so I guess you start seeing the power of
data as a narrative material not only in obvious context such a magazine or a web
site and now moving very far away from technology and digging into personal
stories made of data in 2014 I embarked in a year-long self-initiated project
that I always say there was for me the big data hunger or cure called deer data
a collaboration with london-based information designers definitely
possible so Stephanie and I met only twice in our
lives when we decided to run this very radical experiment around one main
question is it possible to get to know another human being through data only
for deals data for every weekend for one year we use the word personal data to
get to know each other personal data around weekly shared mundane topic from
our thoughts and ideas to the interaction with our partners from our
belongings to our most intimate feelings so 52 excuses in form of data to
investigate and reveal a particular aspects of ourselves in about our days
personal data we will manually hand drawn on a postcard site sheet of paper
that every week was sent from New York to London where Stephanie leaves and
from London to New York where I live from for one year
we’re the front of the card was always the data drawing and the back of the
postcards contain the address of the other person of course and the legend
how to interpret our drawings so we started to look at our ways through data
but not only quantifying the number of times we perform a certain action
instead adding context and details about why what was happening what was the
situation what was the feeling really realizing week after week out to put
ourself in these numbers and the importance of adding context and
qualitative aspects to make this data truly representative of ourselves we
investigated even our mind and our most intimate fears through data sharing with
the other person all the moments that we felt anxious sad frustrated fearful
explaining why through the way we categorize our moments of negativity for
example as one of the 52 topics and ultimately we’ve been using data is our
unique alphabet our language to communicate our lives to the other
person for one entire year so dear data also became a book that is it as third
edition and the original collection of postcards has found the most amazing
home as they’ve been acquired as part of the permanent collection of the Museum
of Modern Art but what excites me even more is that dear Ted has been so well
received from the public outside the data and design community we’ve seen
we’ve seen thousands of postcards made by people not even designer or artist
we’ve learned about the project and wanted to experiment on themselves even
teachers of any grader using this format to teach their students their world of
data it is opened the idea of data to a wider audience that made it more
approachable and more fun to the point that our publishers mark the advisor to
create a second book which came out last fall called observe collected draw which
is a journal for everybody to document the world in data so we have seen how we
can turn even the smallest details of our lives in today that we can look at
to see things from a different perspective but besides personal data we
can do it everywhere and anywhere I’m often asked where do you find data and
more and more replying that I design my data sets another example in 2017 I have
the great are to collaborate with Paola Antonelli
the senior curator for our in architecture at MoMA and with her team
on a piece that closed the show items is fashion modern that some of you might
have seen if you were in New York so the show presented 111 items of clothing and
accessories that have had a strong impact and influence truly our our
culture from the bikini to the bikini from the Patagonia flees to the
balaclava from Colin Kaepernick’s Jersey to the Palestinian caffeine and I have
this incredible opportunity to create a site-specific hand-drawn of course
visualization to guide visitors to explore the features of the items at the
end of the show both individually and part of a bigger ecosystem but what’s
interesting here is that I didn’t have any data I only have the list of a 111
objects and the background research conducted by the career toriel team on
each of them and so I put on the glasses of the data collector and delved into
the 111 stories in search for bits of quantitative and qualitative information
that help me answer a few made question and really understand and reveal why
which is was each item included in the show and I asked for example is the item
a medium or a message meaning is it iconic because of its technical and
aesthetical features or for what you represent and are they want to conform
or to escape meaning hasn’t become a way to blend into a social context and break
free from it and many questions of this kind really crafting the datasets from
these questions and then each of the item became a symbol that I drew on the
wall position and visualized according to this set of attributes is actual data
said that I built together with the curators with a legend on the side
Walter interpreted for the visitors and so the whole point of my exercise was to
start from the final manifestation of this process and work backward really
reconstructing the invisible data set that Powell and her team used as an
input for their design even without knowing it and then making it visible
for everyone to see through the lens of data and let me pause for a second I see
I think very pretty interesting moment in time to mere merge data and design
besides the more artistic questions that I showed you up until now
so at this point we’re all aware that the companies and brands that we love
and use every day collect analyze and use the data that we customers make
available to them and in this moment when the conversations about privacy and
what is a fair use of personal data are rising this company will necessarily
have to open up to us about the process owning the fact that they’re collecting
data and starting new type of conversations in shaping new
relationship with us through this data giving a measureable value back to us on
the other side besides adds a recommendation and because we are not
all data scientist most of us many of us have no use of raw data on a spreadsheet
and so it’s only through design that we can shake meaningful experiences in with
this data informs that we all can understand and engage with and I’ll show
you now a few other example of how I think this dial could evolve that I have
started to explore for example in 2017 target one of the main sponsor of the
TED Conference edition in Vancouver asked us for a way to engage the
attendees of the conference on through data and we created a quite unusual
data-driven experience we designed what we call data portrait of all the people
who are at Ted images based on people’s answers to a series of questions and
translated into a hand-drawn image where every color symbol in position of the
elements that you’re seeing is of course a direct translation of one person’s
answer and these images were then immediately printed on buttons that
people would wear throughout the conference and use as a tool for
sparking conversation and finding commonalities and differences with each
other so we asked simple but somehow personal questions and you can as you
can read on the legend such as which that letter are you technology
entertainment or design and did you get your best ideas of tournedos beverage or
will it work or out messy is your task or how many unread emails in your inbox
before you freak out and people at Ted we’re we’re in their abstract symbol on
their badges using them to really identify similarities and differences
with others at with other people at the first glance really an excuse to start a
conversation an icebreaker and know in the meaning of course behind the
colors and the symbols on the other person’s badge and so in this small
experiment we prototype a model when the data that were the data that I shared
generates an output that gives a tangible value back to me in this
specific case it was in the form of a keepsake and to create more interesting
conversations and another example when the team at Google News initiative asked
us for an original text on how to look at their data meaning Google searches we
in this case decided to let people define their frame of reference to
interpret the data that they will see before before seeing it and engaging
them in the actual production of data and as for the topic in a challenging
moment of international tensions rising we decided to focus on the idea of hope
and using it as our a lens to dig in so we created building owns building hopes
and after lets you create physical sculptors that represent the ideas
concepts and movements that you’re hopeful for and then using them as a
means to access Google trend data so as the experience starts in incremented
reality setup you’re presented with floating topics to select from so
medical discoveries improving education gender
achieving gender equality ideas that you might be hopeful for that you can tap
and give a way to rocks that you can really place in a specific location in
the world through augmented reality to share with all of the other people using
the app and once the sculpture is created then it can be used as a way to
access Google trend data on the topic of your choice revealing how people around
the world are searching and have searched for the same concepts over time
and seeing also how many other people who use the app are hopeful for the same
ideas and concepts and again making you reflect upon the data that you’re seeing
in a conversation with yourself at that moment so the idea is that by picking
what you’re awful for before starting to engage in a conversation that you
already have a stake in and even data coming from a brand becomes more about
you and it’s filtered by what you care about and to translate this experience
into a more general idea well if we think about what we see on social
for example at this point we all know that we live in the bubbles that are
created by our own behaviors what we like and what we share seeing pretty
much only the content that confirms our thinking and preferences and in fact
giving us a partial view of the world and well if through a design experience
we could make people even more aware that what they choose filters what they
see and what is given back to them I think that we will have really way more
opportunities for should we want it break free from the bubbles that we own
that we own create by recognizing them first and I want to conclude getting
into something that we can perhaps all relate to as human beings I wanted to
share with you an even more radical experiment that deals with how medical
data is presented and what is normally not even recorded in this context this
project is a collaboration with my dear friend and guitar hero kaki king we
actually started to collaborate when John Maeda brought us together a few
years ago for a branding project that combined music and data visualization
for the 200 years anniversary of the Hennessy VSP edition of the cognac which
I will not get into a lot of details for our time sake but then kaki and I fell
in love with each other work immediately and decided to keep on exploring
together until when two years ago caucus three years old daughter Cooper was
diagnosed with a condition called ITP an autoimmune disease where her body
attacks her her platelets and leads to spontaneous blues in bruises burst blood
vessels called petechiae all over her skin and in the most terrifying cases
even internal bleeding’s so for four months until her daughter Cooper was out
of the danger zone we collected and combined quantitative data from Cooper’s
tests and qualitative observations from khaki like from her life her home level
of stress and fear and the main episode there happened and we decided to share
this very personal journey not with words but through this data then I then
visualized in a way that you will probably not expect from a medical data
visualization so these that are really intimate and very intense and personal
so I asked myself can a data visualization evoke empathy and activate
us also at an emotional only at a cognitive one so I structured
the fluid timeline to tell the shores of this for our very hard months for khaki
and her family every symbol that you see represented at a point worth every petal
every white petal is a day and the rhythm is broken when Cooper was
admitted to the hospital to check her platelet count and the bursts of red
dots represent his value and then we have data as observed by khaki herself
like the purple splotches with their intensity representing the visible
bruises or the pink dots and their dimension represent the level of the
number of petechiae like really the level of petechiae the blood marks on
her skin when Cooper was taking steroids you see these grey shapes affecting the
days and here’s where Cooper had some incident that caused her skin to worsen
such as she fell at the park or she was bitten by a mosquito but there’s also
all that was going on in khakis lifing in her mind
khaki tours a lot and she feels very stressed or went away from home in this
particular moment and this is indicated with this black dots in the days that
she was gone but there have also have been positive moments which is a fun
birthday party for Cooper or her brother that are highlighted by these yellow
spots that cheer up the visual in a way and lastly okay also khaki kept track of
her home level of fear and hope for the day the she reported on a scale of 1 to
10 visualized through this floating line when the dark lines are her fears and
the orange lines are her hope and all around we added khakis personal note for
the day this visual was also used as a musical score by khaki to create a piece
of music that she composed directly for the four month of data collection when
the timeline of the song represents what was happening to in their life exactly
as the data visualization that you saw and this is the song that you’re here
now as you can probably see this is not by
any means a scientific representation of data still I think that it paints a
pretty complete and sensorial picture of this very personal journey and many
people live in similar experiences told us that this visualization made them
feel really part of a caucus stories in a way that probably a blog post wouldn’t
have done and I don’t want to say that this can lead to any medical
breakthrough scientific breakthrough in the medical field this is not the point
of my work but I believe there is a world of unexplored small and intimate
data that we often don’t see if we apply a straightforward definition of what
data is and wait what if for example hospitals and doctors will also speak
this type of languages back to us what if every company an organization that
collects our data was opening to design the way we receive our information back
and give us endless opportunity to engage with our own data and learn more
about ourselves in the process we really live in a moment in time when we need
and we can reclaim a human and therefore way more approachable and accessible
approach to data I often gather what I do and think under the umbrella of data
humanism a new Renaissance were we humans in our needs and desires will be
the focus of the conversations around data where we will design way story
could empathy imperfection and human qualities into how we collect process
analyze and display this information to make them faithfully representative of
our human nature we’re data-driven design is replaced by design driven data
because we will design the way we will approach data depending on its unique
context every time we will design the
conversation around data and where ultimately instead of using data only to
become more efficient we will always use data also to become more human thank you

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