Artist and information designer Giorgia Lupi’s work can be distilled into two words: humanizing data. At Accurat, the international research firm she co-founded with two partners, the Italian-born New Yorker “visualizes” facts and figures for a diverse range of clients, from Microsoft and IBM to the investigative journalists at online publication The Intercept, which wanted interactive visuals to accompany a story about Google’s connections to the White House.
On her own, Lupi transforms data sets she compiles into elegant conceptual artworks that offer “glimpses of humanity” and a window into “overlooked details” (to give just one example, Data ITEMS, a hand-drawn info-mural created for a 2017 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, presented two centuries of fashion history as a swirling mass of words and markers; it forms the background to her portrait above). With data collection very much in the news, Lupi’s soft take on hard science offers lessons for creatives in many fields. She recently shared some of them with Azure.
1 Don’t let data intimidate you.
The way we visualize data is crucial because it’s the key to translating numbers into concepts we can relate to. I never learned to code at a level that could help me make what I had in mind. Overcoming this limitation forced me to develop my voice, style and approach.
2 These days, objective analysis only goes so far.
We are ready to question the impersonality of a merely technical approach to data and to begin designing ways to connect numbers to what they really stand for: knowledge, behaviour, people. The more ubiquitous data becomes, the more we need to experiment with how to make it unique, contextual, intimate.
3 Think of numbers as storytelling tools.
Every time I am presented with data, I try to make it speak our language. Numbers are always placeholders for something else, a way to capture a point of view. But sometimes this gets lost. Blindly putting numbers in a chart is like reviewing a movie by analyzing the chemical properties of the cellulose on which the images were recorded.
4 Designing with data is like designing in space.
All design deals with constraints. In architecture, you are limited to designing a space for day one of its existence, but you can’t foresee or control how people will use it. It’s the same with information design – only the space is the chart and the people are the data.
5 Cultivate empathy.
In many industries, the sudden craze for Big Data has been interpreted merely as a technological challenge, but I think a true revolution will come if we keep context, stories and human qualities at the centre of our efforts. We should experiment with how to visualize uncertainty and design new ways to include empathy. Data should be the starting point and not the end of the conversation.