Drawing With Data In Mind

Giorgia Lupi Dear Data

The digital Atlas CareMap, still in development, is an exciting project aimed at increasing the accessibility and functionality of the traditional CareMap and to collect first-of-its-kind data about our care ecosystems.

To build the digital CareMap, Atlas of Caregiving has partnered with Accurat, a data-driven design and research firm. Accurat specializes in building visual narratives to explore complex systems of information and has recently completed projects for a range of organizations and companies including Microsoft, Google, and World Economic Forum.

Giorgia Lupi is Co-Founder and Design Director at Accurat. She and CEO Gabriele Rossi have spearheaded the project to develop the digital CareMap. Giorgia spoke with us recently about what drives her to do the work she does in information design and what inspires her about the digital CareMap project.

Giorgia is known for her humanistic approach to data and data visualization. This involves moving beyond a mere technical treatment of data in order to begin drawing meaningful connections between the data and the numbers and what they represent. It is a mistake, according to Giorgia, to assume that pictographs and summary statistics are innately capable of “simplifying complexity.”

Humanistic data visualization, then, is intentionally complex and dynamic, and relentlessly personalized to the context of the question being asked. Every project requires it’s own method for how the data are treated and analyzed.

Giorgia’s interest in Atlas stems from this shared obsession of data and humanism. Much like Atlas, Accurat is inspired to understand the context of a human issue and isn’t interested in overly simple or generalized solutions. What excites Giorgia so much about creating the digital CareMap is the embeddedness of human relationships in caregiving ecosystems. It’s remarkable that relationships—such a crucial part of our lives—can be mapped. “This is definitely one of the richest projects I’ve worked on in terms of human nature and relationships,” she says.

Incorporating the nature of the relationship into the data is a difficult task. Doing it well requires accounting for nuance and the complexity of the human interaction. Giorgia points out that much of the power and value held in the CareMap actually goes far beyond family caregiving. What makes the CareMap so remarkable is its ability to represent and visualize relationships as more than lines connecting nodes in a network. Mapping relationships in the way that the CareMap does can also capture valuable details about behavior and feelings. “This project has enormous potential to sensitize people and institutions to being able to communicate, set goals, to make progress toward changing,” she says.

Giorgia also describes challenges of the project. The first is general and applicable to all work she does—data must be presented in a way that is meaningful and accessible to the viewer and also aesthetic. The second challenge involves finding a balance between establishing a clear and clean digital language that still manages to represent the complexity of relationships. The digital CareMap provides suggested terms for the types of relationships and type of support that may exist in a caregiving ecosystem, but also allows uses to add their own language if they choose.

One of the bigger considerations for the project dealt with the implications of digitizing a method previously centered around the process of hand-drawing. As participants in the CareMap Workshops and other family caregivers have told us time and time again, the literal act of drawing the CareMap itself can be a powerful and deeply insightful experience. Giorgia and Accurat appreciate the significance of the act of drawing and worked hard to strike a balance between maintaining that component of the tool and incorporating the nuances that digitization offers. One of the benefits of the digital version of the CareMap, for example, is that it can be edited and more easily modified to account for changing care ecosystems than hand-drawn versions would be.

There will always be tradeoffs between analogue and digital, simple and complex, general and contextual. Giorgia and Accurat’s strengths lie exactly in knowing how to balance them in order to optimize for meaning and resonance. As anyone could imagine, this is not always an easy task in a tech-focused culture with an impulse to quantify complex scenarios in order to generate quick, aggregated solutions.

Giorgia acknowledges that data can certainly be scary, especially when it, and the way people often talk about it, are frequently confined to science and math and rigidity. This isn’t how it has to be, though—we can make it less scary. We do that by remembering that data, as we tend to think of it, doesn’t really exist. It’s not a real thing in itself, rather, it’s an abstraction of the same world we know and experience. We have to think about the content of the data, not the numbers. “People think data will solve our problems, but WE invented that data,” Giorgia cautions. The value of doing data science and data visualization and the potential of these fields is in the transference, the sharing. The goal then, is to make it approachable, not intimidating. “Data is always a means—not the end to anything,” Giorgia says.

From Giorgia’s perspective, collecting data and presenting it in certain ways is another way to build records and memories. “The more interesting questions,” she says, “are the ones that computers can’t track. It starts with what you’re curious about tracking about yourself.” There is a narrative component to looking at data this way. It makes data science less about analyzing numbers and more about telling stories. Giorgia’s data projects are visually beautiful, and we can appreciate them for that, but their true power lies in their ability to convey meaningful and relatable narratives about parts of the world and people that we can’t necessarily observe.

This aligns closely with Atlas’ mission to collect and analyze rich data on the hidden activities and day-to-day lives of family caregivers. Atlas and Accurat are compatible partners because they each embrace very human-centered curiosity. They want to understand relationships, emotions, narratives, and behaviors. “[The digital CareMap],“ says Giorgia, “is one of the great projects where we can bring human nature as close to the heart of data as possible.”