Lupi and Posavec, Dear Data

A must for the visually-inclined and those interested in quantitative research. The premise of the book is simple: Pose a question about your daily routine (for example, the ambient noise in your surroundings), then collect data on it for a week. The final step is to visualize the findings on a postcard and send it to a friend.

This is the approach that Ms Lupi and Ms Posavec took in Dear Data. What emerges is a visually fascinating and mentally stimulating project that asks fundamental questions about data and its uses. For example, one weekly experiment had the two researchers eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. To their surprise, the results were quite boring. But they were also nuanced: Ms Lupi overheard a conversation in Italian in which two women were discussing her outfit (unbeknownst to them, she is a native Italian-speaker). This example highlights the value of this work: The questions themselves lie in the remit of “big data”; divorced from its context, however, such data tells us very little. On the other hand, following the Dear Data approach, we discover that contexts such as weekdays, languages, places and other underlying factors are equally important in order to truly understand what the data is trying to tell us.

Naturally, a TED Talk by Giorgia Lupi is a good place to start. Also, the Museum of Modern Art recently bought the original collections of postcards and sketchbooks for the Dear Data project. As a read, the book reflects the complexity of reality in a very tangible way, offering insights to both the researchers and readers intrepid enough to interpret the data visualizations. The nuances and sub-texts that emerge from the original research question is the true value of the book; the interplay of content and context provides useful food for thought for any researcher or anyone interested in quantitative collection and visualization methods.