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Giorgia Lupi’s Quest for the Humanity Behind Data

Data is a lens to the way I see the world. It’s a filter, then a design material I create with.

Giorgia Lupi’s body of work is something of an enigma. The Italian-born New Yorker has worked with an eclectic array of clients from IBM and Google to the UN and World Health Organization. Lupi defines herself as an information designer, a field which exists somewhere in between graphic design and data analytics. Her work is concerned with illustrating data in a way that reconnects the numbers with the humanity which underlies them.

Data is a placeholder for knowledge, ideas, and behaviours, a humanly-devised method for analysing and archiving individual realities. If data is a tool for representing and understanding reality, Lupi contents that the ways in which data is visually represented should impart a greater sense of the human element beneath the numbers.

Her work is data-driven but retains a crucial element of humanity, blending hard data sets with a softer ‘layer’ of qualitative, emotional and deeply personal elements.

Lupi expresses frustration for the economy of cheap infographics utilised to visually represent data, bar graphs and pie charts that attempt to communicate simplicity out of the complexity of data. Data is a representation of reality, which is often ambiguous, murky, and complicated. When we remove the occasion for nuance in the visual language of data representation, we remove the chance for grasping the importance of the stories and individuals behind the numbers.

In a moving tribute to the visceral emotions which often underlie data sets Lupi’s audiovisual collaboration with composer Kaki King, entitled Bruises-The Data We Don’t See, documents three months of King’s young daughter Cooper’s hospitalization after being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP) in which the body attacks its own platelets, and prevents clotting.

The disease lends itself well to Lupi’s unique brand of data representation, as it is a highly visual disease, usually first diagnosed by patient’s unexplained bruises all over the body. King and Lupi began compiling the clinical inputs of Cooper’s platelet counts and lab results and combining them with more personal data such as what books they were reading to Cooper whilst in the hospital, and the feelings of despair, anger and hope familiar to anyone who has experienced the illness of a loved one.

The resulting audiovisual piece is a poignant and deeply personal representation of the physical and emotional manifestations of illness, that goes far beyond clinical data.

This time, in this particular time of Kaki’s life, we felt the need to go deeper. We combined our art practices to take back some control over these frightening events: illuminating the most humane dimensions of what we so coldly call data, and making a cathartic sort of beauty out of this disturbing time.

Bruises is a testament to the sense of empathy that Lupi hopes to cultivate within data visualisations. In her view, the hunger for big data is not merely a technical challenge, but also a challenge of retaining the complexity and context of the human qualities that are so central to our efforts. Data is a manifestation of the desire to be remembered and in some way communicate ‘I was here’. With this in mind, Lupi contends that a true revolution will occur if we cultivate methods for visualising uncertainty and communicating empathy with data visualisation.

By transforming the aesthetic heuristics used to visualise data, Lupi hopes to return a degree of dignity and humanity to our online selves and ultimately create a more reciprocal exchange between the companies who gobble up our data, and the people, ideas, and behaviours that those data points represent. Ethical concerns of data collection aside, Lupi’s project ultimately seeks to give users a greater chance for understanding the information constantly being extracted from their day-to-day lives.