For those of you who are old enough, there’s a popular song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical: The King and I called “Getting to know you”. In the 1950s that phrase meant just that – a fairly simple process that usually involved face to face meetings together with a lengthy exchange of letters punctuated by the odd phone call. That was the process whether it was business or pleasure. It was data gathering, but not as we know it in the 21st century age of social media.
At Filofile we were intrigued by a recent project called Dear Data. It took on one central question: Can you get to know someone simply from their data? It is particularly relevant given the recent mining of Facebook profiles that has led to all sorts of political shenanigans and accusations.
Two information designers who had met only twice and lived on opposite sides of the Atlantic decided to set themselves an ambitious challenge. Each week, they would pluck a certain behavioural or experiential metric from their lives, measure it, and highlight the results in infographics tiny and ornate enough to fit on the front of a postcard.
Stefanie Posavec would toss her weekly creation into a postbox in London, while Giorgia Lupi would slide hers into a mailbox in New York.
While the idea that’s it normal for us to track our biometrics – such as calories, steps or fitness – has become widespread, the Dear Data project selected aspects of life generally considered more intangible: apologies, goodbyes, complaints, the use of swear words and smells, to name a few.
The results – intricately complex as well as fiercely intimate – are beautiful pieces of art in their own right, as well as offering the intriguing opportunity to dig down into the data beneath.
The tiny, neatly drawn keys depicted on the back of the postcards, occasionally annotated with amusing asides and layered with important metadata, are fascinating.
The week of laughter saw Giorgia create what resembles a collection of pastel-coloured, frilled and curling blossoms, where different colours denote different people and the stigma-like tendrils denote whether it was her laughter or that of her interlocutor.
For the same week, Stefanie produced boldly coloured, neatly regimented ovals made up of concentric forms radiating out, reminiscent of plant cell diagrams in biology textbooks. The data denotes not only who she was laughing with but the subject of the laughter: ‘TV show’, ‘parents’, ‘strangers’ behaviour’.
Both designers used size as a measure of the intensity of the laughter in question.
Hidden in the data, minute, seemingly inconsequential details can transform into vast, sweeping truths about each other’s lives, and in interviews both have commented on the activity prompting personal revelations.
The original project was conducted in 2016 and all the postcards have been published in a book titled Dear Data. Following its popularity, the pair are also set to publish a visual journal where you can track your own weekly data.
The whole collection is permanently on display at the Museum of Modern Art.
At Filofile we ensure your data, whether it be old photographs showing the progression of your business, historical documents, ledgers, annual reports or anything else that helps build a picture of a business is securely stored and indexed, ready for the occasion when you want to retrieve and get to know the data waiting for a fresh interpretation. Find out how we can help you, by contacting us today