For those of you who know me, I love documentation so much that I made it my job. That’s why I was excited to read a book called Dear Data, detailing how two designers — Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec — mailed each other postcards with hand-drawn data visualizations about their lives. Each week, they designed a new visualization using data they collected for topics such as “things we bought” or “sounds we heard.” I was itching to try this project myself, but documenting the mundane details of my life sounded like a daunting task. Nothing like a good blog post article to push myself to try new things.
Here was my plan:
- Choose the data I want to record.
- Collect the data in my trusty note-taking app.
- Draw the data visualization.
- Reflect on the stories and patterns I noticed through the visualization process.
For the first week*, I recorded every single time I looked at a clock, and how I felt when I checked it. Here is the result:
Here’s how the process went for my week of clocks:
Choosing the data
I chose the first topic in the Dear Data book to be my own guinea pig topic. Time is a universally relatable theme, since it runs every aspect of our lives. I was eager to map out my relationship with time, since I often find myself stressing out over my strict schedule. I figured I would collect a sizable amount of data, given how addicted I am to checking the time on my phone.
Collecting the data
As I expected, recording every time I checked the clock was torture, since I had to keep interrupting whatever I was doing many times throughout the week. I also didn’t have the patience to catalog all the emotion qualifiers one by one (technically they should all be “impatient”), so I added them in later. I tried to only include the times I purposefully checked the clock, but it was such an automatic habit that it became difficult to distinguish between on-purpose and accidental clock-checking.
Cleaning the data
Whenever I talked to friends in the data science or analysis field, they complained about how tedious it was to clean data (fix or delete incorrect and incomplete data). Although I empathized, this was my first time experiencing the tedium myself. I manually scoured the data to get all the capitalization and spelling correct, so that Google Sheets could produce an accurate graph. I was grateful that I wasn’t working on a large-scale project with data coming in from multiple sources.
Visualizing the data
I like the overall shape of a design to reflect the meaning of the data it represents, so I wanted the visualization to resemble a clock. At first, I put all the days of the week next to each other, but it looked too bare to reveal any interesting patterns. I also thought I would hand-draw the final product like the authors of Dear Data, but realized I preferred the flexibility that a digital program like Sketch provides. The tick marks ended up crooked though, mostly because of my sheer laziness to fix them, so the drawing still had an imperfect hand-drawn feel. While it was tedious to color the individual data points one-by-one, it felt magical to stack the layers of circles and watch it all come together at the end.
Reflecting on the data
The diagram confirmed many things I knew about myself and my daily routine. For one, the amount of negative reactions I have when checking the time far surpasses the positive. Whenever I check the clock, I feel guilty or annoyed that I’m constantly running late. I have a terrible relationship with mornings, which is when I spend all my time on my phone apps, feeling guilty for being unproductive. As a result of this project, I’m already trying to establish healthier habits in the morning by avoiding phone-induced procrastination. I’m trying to adjust my thinking so that time is not a villainous taskmaster, but rather a helpful tool for organizing my day. Time doesn’t change, so it’s on me to adjust my emotional reactions. For example, I’m grateful for every minute I get to live my happy life.
My first Dear Data-style visualization was exhausting, but a lot of fun. As the authors of Dear Data noted with their own project, collecting data made me examine my habits and automatic reactions to events in my life.
*I also collected data for three other topics, so I’ll finish those visualizations when I have the time!