The following is an examination of my work process for I Am Very Lucky, an information visualization piece taking a look into one week of food consumption in numbers, pictures, and stories.
While approaching this piece, I knew a few things I was interested in discovering, but I tried to suspend too much consideration of results until I was able to collect the data and look back. I knew I wanted to look into a breakdown of who made all the food in our household, I was interested in how much waste we produced, and I was interested in just how much coffee I consumed each week.
After gathering the data, looking at all the disparate pieces of information I had collected, I tried to gain an appreciation as to what connective tissue there was between all the numbers in a spreadsheet. All in all, I felt very lucky. Having recently bought a new camera, I was looking forward to a heavily photographed approach for one, and as I looked back at all the pictures of our delicious meals, it was a moment of reflection as to just how privileged we are in the midst of trying times.
From this, the theme of luck, or more accurately privilege, arose as the primary narrative of my information story. With some consideration of what might be involved further into our class, I had a good sense that this approach wasn’t only appropriate for what I had to show now, but offered interesting pathways into examining data about food access, explorations of distribution of unpaid labor in households, or even waste flow in the pandemic.
Getting Set Up for the Week
Since I knew I wanted my work to be very photographically involved, a few days in advance of collecting data, I tried some photo experiments to get a sense of the flow for the week. I know that documentation can add a ton to any process, and I didn’t want to disrupt our typical food habits with documentation. I tried a few test shoots with various spices and ingredients, but it turned out we didn’t end up using as many spices this week. This still however set the groundwork for how to flow well, I kept my off camera flash with me and found I could set it to cast light up in most contexts to display the food well without much hassle.
After collecting all the data, I really gained an appreciation for how hard it can be to visualize all the information you have and turn it into an effective story. I had a hard time from what I had on the screen and in my image folds even fully seeing what all I had, let alone divining any interesting story. I initially thought I would be doing much more by way of displaying each individual meal or at least dinner I had, but after laying it all out to get a sense of where I could go, I realized there were much more interesting stories if I pulled a bit further out and looked at broader themes.
Designing Effectively for the Web
Designing for a result that would be seen in its ultimate form online was a challenge for me. While designing my stories, I didn’t want my Format website’s limited functionality (or my limited ability to make it function) detract from my overall work, so I considered carefully how I would create each piece. It also presented unique opportunities. I haven’t had as many opportunities to present designed pieces on the web as compared to print, so I wanted to experiment effectively in an additive light context. I developed this convention with this fascinating electric purple that looked like it had movement even over still images. If I needed to print anything with this styling, it would be a terrible time getting print colors to match what was seen on screen, so I saw it as an opportunity to take advantage of my context.
Since I was using such a vibrant color set and treatment, I also wanted to make sure my work would be easily readable in its online context. Accessibility is something I appreciate is important in visualizing information, so I also took the opportunity to also test for those considerations.
From the Chopping Block
Since I collected so many different points of data, there were a number of directions I considered going in, but ultimately what I kept was what seemed like it fit best in my narrative. I wanted to look into where our food came from since getting food during the pandemic is a whole thing unto itself, but so much of the food we used during the week we either already had (like spices, dried goods) or got here before I started documentation. We get a bi-weekly CSA that arrived right at the end, so I photo-documented its opening, but I couldn’t think of a fluid way to work it in.
I also thought it might be interesting to document use of space in some novel way, since space is another unique consideration in the pandemic. We’re lucky enough to be in a two bedroom apartment and use our second room as a joint office, so I thought that privilege might fit well in the theme. I tried to imagine how I could display the information in an interesting way, even mocking up a 3D version of our apartment in Blender, but since the data was essentially split between three locations, I decided with the difficulty of how to display it well, it was best left out.