How 2 Data Pros Became Friends by Exchanging Data Visualizations of Their Lives on Postcards

Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec's delightful 'Dear Data'

Data can be seen as an abstraction at best, or at worst, a way to introduce the robotic quality of programmatics into creativity. We might associate it with digital's way of converting the tangible, the soul of things, into pixels—compressed files that can be more easily stored and tracked, but that also, in the case of art like music or films, siphon away some of the original's quality (while dulling our appreciation of it). 

It probably doesn't help that, to advertisers and marketers, we are also data—people reduced to demographics, custom profiles, brand affinities and buying preferences that must be pushed toward optimized touchpoints. 

We concede that all of that is pretty gross. But is it the whole story? With data, it never is.

Over the course of a year, two data professionals who were overseas acquaintances embarked on a neat experiment called "Dear Data." Giorgia Lupi, design director at Accurat, and Stefanie Posavec, an independent data illustrator, got to know one another by sending each other weekly postcards of data visualizations they created. 

The topics ranged from the mundane, like how often they checked the time, to things like how often they heard a curse word. 

"'Dear Data' was conceived as a new type of correspondence through creating and sending hand-drawn data postcards across the ocean to each other," says Posavec in the video below.

Lupi adds: "By counting and reducing to data the most shameful or personal revelations"—like the number of curse words they heard over a week—"they somehow felt not so shameful anymore. They are data." 

The project has since been converted into a book, Dear Data, with a foreword by Maria Popova of BrainPickings.org. The original postcard collection has also been acquired by MoMA.

Check the video out below. It's followed by an interview we conducted, some neat photos of the postcards (courtesy of their U.S. publisher, Princeton Architectural Press), and a presentation they did at Visualized. 

Click on any image to make it larger.

AdFreak: Tell us where you both are from, and what you were doing.

Stefanie Posavec: I am originally from Denver but have lived in London for the past 13 years. I'm a designer, speaker and teacher for whom data is my favored material and subject. In my day job, I create projects ranging from data visualization and information design to commissioned data art. … Also, in 2013, I was Facebook's first data-artist-in-residence at their Menlo Park campus. 

Giorgia Lupi: I am an Italian information designer living in New York. Originally trained as an architect, I then studied design at Milan Politecnico, where I obtained a PhD in information design. I am co-founder and design director at Accurat, an award-winning data visualization design firm based in Milan and New York. 

 

Giorgia's visualization of the number of times she checked the time, and its key:

 

What inspired this project, and how did you find each other?

Posavec and Lupi: We only met in person twice when we decided to embark on this project together. We were both speaking at the Eyeo conference in the summer of 2014, and a plan to collaborate was hatched, as they usually are, over a few beers! 

We both have a very analog approach to working with data, which is relatively unique in our field, so we thought it would be interesting to work together to create a data project that showcased our interest in the analog, using a slow, manual method of rendering data. 

We also took the biggest constraint as a design one: One of us lives in London and the other in New York. How can we exchange our data drawings? 

The idea of becoming "data penpals" and sending postcards to each other across the sea seemed very compelling, so "Dear Data" became our way of getting to know each other.