This is another example of one of the great internet wormholes that I fall into when I read Twitter. I was fascinated by a Tweet from Nick Sousanis (@nsousanis), which led me to an amazing book so I could interpret his Tweet, which led me back to the work of his students and a bazillion ways remote learners around the world could have fun with his assignment or other permutations of it.
Let’s start with the book. Dear Data began as a pen pal project between two information designers on different continents. As they explain on their website, “Each week, and for a year, we collected and measured a particular type of data about our lives, used this data to make a drawing on a postcard-sized sheet of paper, and then dropped the postcard in an English ‘postbox’ (Stefanie) or an American ‘mailbox’ (Giorgia)!”
Each postcard consists of their data and the explanation of its depiction. The women chose all sorts of topics to record, such as a week of laughter or a week of complaints. Though they would be collecting data for the same topic during that particular week, their pictograms would be dramatically different.
They learned a lot from this year-long project, which resulted in a book, a postcard kit, and a journal. As Giorgia and Stefanie explain in this video, “We learned to pay attention, to live in the present much more, to be more aware of our surroundings, and empower behaviors with new lenses.
So, back to Nick Sousanis, who Tweeted that his visual communications students had come up with their own “Dear Data” projects, and gave examples of some of the results in his Tweet. I asked Nick if I could share these on this blog and he graciously agreed. (You can click on each picture to enlarge.)
I see all kinds of potential for this with students. For example, one of the Depth and Complexity icons is “Trends,” and it would be interesting to ask students to analyze one of these postcards, and determine what trends they see. Using, “See, Think, Wonder” would be a great start. In addition, as Nick found with his class, assigning students to develop their own data sets can invite self-reflection and creativity.
During these unique times, when data has become a fixation for much of the world, students can also examine its importance and reliability. As the women who completed this ambitious project say in their video, “Finally we both realize that data is the beginning of the story, not the end, and should be seen as a starting point for questioning and understanding the world around us instead of seeing it as the definitive answer to all of our questions.”
(For some other fun ideas for looking at data, check out my posts on Slow Reveal Graphs and What’s Going On in This Graph?)