The explosion of big data, and the technology that makes its scrutiny possible, has brought with it a global obsession with tracking every step, calorie and sleeping moment. Coupled with this, is a trend for lustrous graphics and interactive visuals.

I find it even more compelling, therefore, that Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec through their Dear Data project have snubbed such digital sophistication in favour of a more lo-fi approach.

The bountiful data visualisation and art collaboration between Giorgia Lupi, co-founder and design director at Accurat, and Stefanie Posavec, an information designer, adopts a more human view on the data craze. A wealth of creatively rendered data, Dear Data gives visual shape to the more mundane aspects of the two authors' lives.

With a slew of clients from the British Council to Google and Fiat Chrysler under their belts, and a sprawling roster of side projects to their name, the Italian-American duo's unique take on information - at its best in the recently published Dear Data - has seen them dipping their toes in the mainstream while staying true to their own vision.

In the wake of the announcement that Dear Data will be joining the ranks of Salvador Dalì and Andy Warhol as part of MoMA's permanent collection, we caught up with Giorgia and Stefanie on all things data.


What led you to start Dear Data and what have you learned from undertaking the project?

We had only met each other 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 analogue 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 analogue, and 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 could we exchange our data-drawings? The idea of becoming 'data pen pals' and sending postcards to each other across the sea seemed very compelling, and so Dear Data became our way of getting to know each other.

We were also curious to see if it was possible to get to know a person purely through the medium of data and drawings.

What we both undoubtedly learned was how to pay attention and be much more aware of ourselves, our behaviours and our surroundings. As a long-term self-investigative project, we have been able to touch several topics at the same time. Some weeks have been particularly insightful to us, especially the ones that touched our obsessions; or the ones that were more personal, such as the relationship with our boyfriends/husbands.

In your opinions what are the most important challenges and opportunities presented by 'big data'?

The "promise" of Big Data is clearly to provide a level of measurement and control over many aspects of business, society, and our personal lives that we didn't think possible even a few years ago. We believe though, that in order to unlock the true potential that Big Data can offer us, we always have to keep a focus on what the data represents and not on the numbers themselves. In many industries, this sudden craze for Big Data has been interpreted merely as a technological challenge, while we think a true revolution will come if we keep context, stories and human qualities at the centre of our effort when working with statistics.

Are your data visualisations generally designed to make a point? Or do you approach projects simply trying to lay out / visualise facts?

No datasets or data visualisation is neutral: they were all created by an author, an infallible human. So, we would say that yes, we always have a focus that we choose to present in our data, as this focus will inform how we organise our visualisation. Of course, we want to ensure the data's integrity is intact, and we don't lie or mislead with our visualisation.

The distinction between data presentation and data art is often fuzzy - how do you separate the two?

We believe there doesn't need to be a distinction: data visualisation is a process that is used for many different functions and contexts ranging from scientific visualisations to business visualisations to data journalism graphics to data art. In essence, it's all about context: a data visualisation will have to fulfil different requirements depending on how it will be used or experienced.

We prefer to work in the 'fuzzy' in-between spaces, because we feel that by working in the middle of art, design, and data visualisation we move these fields further than if we worked within a confined set of boundaries.

You both have done a lot to try and democratise data and make it more accessible, most notably through Dear Data. Why do you think your art / design work has drawn so much interest / acclaim from art institutes such as MoMa?

We think the project has drawn acclaim for two reasons:

1. For the reason described above: though working in an interdisciplinary way across these multiple spaces of art, design and data visualisation we have been able to extend what is possible for all three.

2.The project focuses on 'small' warm, human-scaled data in contrast to big, cold, clinical data, and we believe that this smaller, warmer approach is what will make data appeal to a lay audience, and hopefully be a stepping stone to bigger picture issues of how data fits in our culture and society.

Dear Data is very much a personal look into your data - would you ever embark on a project which explores the role of data within society as a whole?

Not really on society directly. At the moment we are working on different activities to make the methods and approach we used with Dear Data accessible and available to more and more people. The projects we are working on will provide a broader audience with guidance on how to make their personal data more tangible and relatable to their lives.
We believe that focusing on creating data-awareness at this individual and small scale level is actually the key to foster positive impacts on our society at a larger scale.