Giorgia Lupi is a designer, her work spans the analogue (print) and the digital (web) dimensions, creating visual models and metaphors that tell packed and complex stories through data. Through a mixture of quantitative data and storytelling, Giorgia proves that data is never impersonal and can be the starting point for a narrative, for images, for knowledge, attitudes, cultural paradigms and people.
Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, Wired, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Forbes, Slate, Flash Art, Art Tribune, The Atlantic, Business Insider, Vice Magazine, Corriere della Sera, Il Post, La Stampa, Ottagono and El Pais and in books such as Understanding the World – The Atlas of Infographics, The Best American Infographics 2014, The Information Designers Sketchbooks and An Infographic History of the World.
She has also been the recipient of several awards, such as The Gold Medal in Data Visualization Projects and Most Beautiful Projects – The Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards 2015 and the Gold Medal for Data Journalism – O’Reilly Strata. She was awarded the 2016 Lezioni di Design prize at Milan Design Week, just a few weeks ago.
Your work spans data and design, how would you define it? How would you describe your design approach?
I describe myself as an information designer, I work with both numbers and images to present qualitative and quantitative content visually. My aim is to find a balance between a correct representation of the complexity underlying narrative phenomena and visual means of communication in order to make it accessible and attractive.
My design approach is extremely “artisan”, I try to begin every job with manual and analogue data, taking time to understand the data and drawing a great deal: to work out how to organise the data at spatial level, in order to define both the architecture of the composition and the visual look of the tiniest details.
There’s a lot of talk about design these days, perhaps too much. What does it mean to you? What role does design play in the market and in our lives these days? What does being a designer mean right now, as in how do you interpret your profession?
I don’t think we talk too much about design these days, in fact, if we take “design” in the widest sense of the word and not just the design of objects or furniture. Often the word design is associated with products, but that’s obviously extremely limiting. Design means asking oneself the right questions before embarking on any project, design is the process of understanding how things work, design means organising the available information and proceeding along a visionary and detailed parallel path.
Design is an approach, rather than a sphere. Most of us don’t realise how great a part design plays in our lives and in our daily existence, from the objects we use, obviously, even the most ordinary ones, to the services we avail ourselves of, the communications we consume.
There can be no innovation without design, what designing means today is what it has always meant: configuring the present and the future.
What do you imagine your work will be like in 10 years?
I hope I’ll be busy on something that I can’t even begin to imagine right now!
Where do you seek and find inspiration, what do you look for, what are your points of reference?
I’m fascinated by abstract art, the beauty of contemporary and traditional musical notes, astronomical and scientific drawings and the world of architectural representation. I often say that before sitting down and taking on any design and data visualisation project I take time to lose myself in the images, so that I can be inspired by visual compositions that attract me. I realise that I’m inspired by visual languages in particular, which are partly conventional, like those I described earlier.
Tell us about one of your recent projects, Dear Data for example.
Dear Data is an extremely interesting example in terms of my design approach and research in the field of data and data visualisation. For a whole year, Stefanie Posavec (an information designer based in London) and I shared practically everything about ourselves through our personal data and through this ongoing data exchange we got to know each other and became friends, to the point that we are now very close, which doesn’t happen with very many people for me.
The format of the project – accessible at: www.dear-data.com – is very simple: each week, for 52 weeks, we each delved into our own lives from a precise standpoint that we mapped in data form: from our indecisions to our negative thoughts, emotions and desires … not just the number of times we felt indecisive or emotional, but each adding in personal facts surrounding these subjects.
At the end of each week, we examined each other’s data manually: on postcards that we sent to the other side of the ocean (I live in New York, Stefanie lives in London). The front of the card contains our data-drawing, while the back contains the key for interpreting our week in data, as well as each other’s addresses.
I think it’s a good example of how data can help us become more “human”, paradoxically, of how data are not simply finite numbers in themselves but always represent something more, people, thoughts, objects, behaviours. I think anybody who works with data on a daily basis needs to remember that, seen through the right lens, they can help us make connections, links, to better understand our own character and become familiar with it rather than departing from it, as is often believed.
Taking technology right out of the equation, we realised that we had to make up for it by learning how to become better designers: we both found ourselves inventing 52 new and different visual languages, because freehand design inevitably leads to creating representations shaped by the data, without the constraints of the “prefabricated” models found in visualisation software.
More generally, experiments of this kind, in which tools, procedures and technologies are deliberately very limited, have a lot to teach us about the standpoint from which we look at data, because by taking the attention away from the technological aspects we get closer to the real meaning of information; once we’ve managed to effectively gather and demonstrate what the figures mean, it can make sense to bring technology back into the design process.
I believe there’s huge potential in exploring ways of measuring and recording personal experiences without reducing them to simple quantification. With Dear Data we endeavoured to enhance our data with extremely “qualitative” elements: stories, emotions and subtleties that helped us each week to insert the figures into a human and personal context, helping us describe a complex, rich reality. Through the project, we tried to show that data need not necessarily be frightening or “big” in order to be meaningful and impactful; small intelligent and contextual data can help us understand the world, people and behaviours in exactly the same way as the great flows from data giants such as Google and Facebook, if not better.
How would you describe your home? What adjectives would you use?
White, tall, light, empty but full of paper, felt tips, pencils and sketches filed precisely and obsessively.
It’s well known that you draw all the time and everywhere … Does that include houses? Interiors? If so, is there something you could show us?
Not much, I draw interiors when – as often happens – I’m having supper with my partner and I start doodling while we’re chatting, or I make sketches of changes we might make to our home, there are a few very LoFi examples on my Instagram profile (@giorgia_lupi).
Is there any one “thing” in your home that you could never do without?
Light, and the view over the city I love, New York. We haven’t hung any pictures or prints because having New York right outside the window is atmospheric enough!
What design or designer in the history of design would you regard as an icon and why?
Massimo Vignelli, an information designer who has designed objects and visual communications that are part of our everyday lives, from the New York City subway map to the Ford and American Airlines logos (the latter was used for 45 years before being reworked in 2013), the signage at Termini Station in Rome and the interiors of St Peter’s Church in Manhattan.
I am really fascinated by what he says in The Vignelli Canon: “I discovered that what is important is to master a design discipline to be able to design anything”, and I agree: design is one, it’s an approach. Paradoxically, if you can design one thing, you can design anything.
What about an icon of our times?
Aaron Koblin, an American multimedia digital artist and entrepreneur, famous for the incredibly creative use of data and crowdsourcing in his works: from musical videos to interactive films. He has helped tens of thousands of ordinary people become “creators” of small pieces of digital art, encouraging people to create little specific parts of interactive digital documentaries that go to make up truly immersive experiences, take a look at his site (http://www.aaronkoblin.com/) and you’ll see what I mean!