Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec are getting to know each other through the data of their lives.
The designers met last year at the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis and connected over a passion for hand-drawn data visualization and their experiences as expats—Lupi, an Italian, resides in Brooklyn and Posavec, an American, is in London. “We just started to think that we had to do something together, in a very analog, hand-crafted way. When we got back home, we started to exchange emails,” Lupi tells Fusion in a phone interview.
“Dear Data,” a modern, data-driven take on snail mail communication, was born. Each week for a year, the new friends agreed to send each other hand-drawn representations of a previously agreed upon, personalized data-set—like how often, and why, they look at their phones, or what they buy over the course of a week. The illustration has to fit on a postcard, though external notes are allowed.
Lupi and Posavec are making the project public by uploading each postcard to a website, dear-data.com, and explaining the process. So far, they’ve uploaded 8 weeks worth of correspondence to the site. The results are beautiful, and very personal.
In the sixth week, for example, the two agreed to track physical contact. For Posavec, the card turned into something of a love letter to her husband. She writes:
When I showed the complete drawing to my husband, he asked for a scan of the postcard so he could have a record for himself. I like how by gathering and visualising data about my relationship, the data becomes an emotional record, and becomes invested with quite an intimate meaning. By giving him the card I’m effectively presenting to him a previously-invisible texture of our relationship, a data token of affection.
In the third, they kept track of “thank yous.” Lupi writes:
What really jumped out at me when looking at my data was how many thanks I say to strangers: I am an unbelievably compulsive thanker to waiters and waitresses, especially; but I don’t really thank so much my friends and family.
When asked if recording the data changed her behavior, Lupi says it hasn’t—but it might. “We see Dear Data as an exercise of practicing paying attention. It’s hard to change in a few months, but this is helping me investigate my personality and identify areas of improvement.”
Lupi thinks of Dear Data primarily as a design project, and as a means to humanize data. In the About Us section of the website, the pair note: "We also started this project to show how 'data' is not scary, is not necessarily 'big,' and that you need to know almost nothing about data to start collecting and representing it." But, Lupi says, the focus of the project has shifted over time: "I think the more the idea evolved, the more we saw Dear Data as our way to get to know each other."
Indeed, Dear Data is most compelling as a peek into a growing friendship. Imperfections in the data set shed light on the women's lives. For example, in week four (“a week of mirrors”) Posavec cops to a 'data void,' writing, "Giorgia and I have both decided that massive ‘data voids’ need to be recorded, so here’s the first proper one from me. I’m sure it’ll be the first of many."
Posavec says that she stopped tracking how often she was checking her reflection because “the human mind tends to shut down in specific circumstances…namely when one is really drunk at a laser-themed rave (dress code: mirrored and metallic), carrying a full-sized mirrorball.” Forgivable.
Dear Data also puts the women in constant, non-analog communication. In addition to receiving postcards each week, the women text about the project. “We text every day, we send emails…we text each other once we get the postcards, and we are also asking questions about the details. We really want to know more,” says Lupi. The two only discuss their shared project, but it is so personal that the line between colleague and friend blurs. “We don’t talk on topics that are absolutely not related, but Dear Data is already an excuse to talk about our lives.”
And the physicality of illustrating and sending a postcard is its own form of building the relationship. "It’s so good to receive it, it always gets a smile out of me on the bad days," says Lupi. "It’s our way of saying I’m thinking about you."
New postcards are uploaded to dear-data.com every Wednesday. Images courtesy of Giorgia Lupi.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.