By the numbers: Info, graphics, human, data

Around this time last year, the UNDP’s (United Nations Development Programme) youth council approached AOD (Academy of Design), to contribute a piece of live art to their yearly development pannel/conference. Their brief was open, their only request being that the piece be a direct response to the content and discussion that would take place in the conference.

We thought it sounded like an excellent plan and, fascinated as always with the idea of art and design baring witness and starting conversation, we decided to create a “live information graphics” piece. It was inspired by a mix of live painting, life drawing and the subjective objectivity of collecting information about people.


Students were given a restricted set of colours and materials to work with – each bit corresponding to an item in the legend that accompanied the final graphics.


They were asked to observe the conversations and collect ‘live data’ which would then be applied to the graphics.

They were very diligent, and we hope they had fun too.

Each team had a slightly different interpretation of the brief, but the limited colour palette, and the restricted use of materials, dictated by the data collected, kept them all on the same page.

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We were very excited about this opportunity, and kept a close eye on other things happening in the field of info graphics over the past year:

Information design as a form is still a relatively low-key and underdeveloped area, despite the countless ‘infographics’ that can be found floating around on Facebook and Pinterest – the majority of these are not information graphics so much as info with graphics (read: text and doodle). There is incredible untapped potential in this field, and there are many young, brilliant designers focusing their talents in this area.

A favourite recent example is another live infographic experimental collaboration between Georgia Lupi (data humanist) and Kaki King (muse, musician, artist). Georgia Lupi is pushing and questioning the boundaries of what data means, how we use it, why we use it, and how it can make us more human.  In her collaboration with Kaki, she played with the expected, sterile display of music, morphing it into something one could follow intuitively with eyes, alongside ears. The visual and acoustic performance took place at Design Indaba in Cape town earlier this year. Here is a tweet that captures a small part of the performance.


Design Indaba 2017 did a lot to rep infographics, by inviting another amazing designer pioneering visual information to speak at the conference this year – Ekene Ijeoma. Check out his brilliant interactive piece entitled ‘Wage Islands’


And one more for good measure – Jer Thorpe, data artist, scientist and educator, has been investigating the possibility of using data as a medium for theatre. The result so far has been a performance art piece entitled A Thousand Exhausted Things in which actors read a script generated by a computer directly tuned into the MoMA’s database of work which spans decades. “[We’re] asking the audience to think of the database as not just a myriad of rows and columns, but as a cultural artifact. The collection is shown as not only a record of the museum’s history, but of changing trends in contemporary art.


These are just a few recent examples of the huge potential of this field. Growing up with ‘Big Data’ (you may have head of it) has made it our generation’s inherited responsibility to figure out ways to thrive with information, and not get lost in it. “The more ubiquitous data becomes, the more we need to experiment with how to make it unique, contextual, intimate. – Georgia Lupi, Data Humanism” So far, it’s been a good year.

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In closing is AOD’s contribution to this movement, curtesy of UNDP 2016. We are calling it “Life Drawing With Data” – because of the organic way in which information was collected and applied. Take a look at the results below, and let us know what you think.

Colours: Pink/Red – Mention of the Past | Blue/Green – Mention of the present | Yellow/Orange – Mention of the Future
Textures: Newsprint – Mention of Sri Lanka | Magazine – Mention of Abroad | Acrylic Paint – Women speaking | Watercolour – Men speaking

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