‘Mapping Ourselves’

Data Driven Design

Data collection tools for Atlas of Caregiving help people observe, visualize and analyze their communities of care.

In the different stages of our lives, we’ve all been taken care of, we’ve all taken care of someone dear to us and, at some point, we’ve all had to take care of ourselves. But have we ever stopped to think about how we do it? What does our caregiving network actually look like and how can we use information design to understand and make sense of it? 

Pentagram partner Giorgia Lupi and her team have designed a suite of six personal data-collection activities for Atlas of Caregiving, a California-based nonprofit that focuses on the role of care—both giving and receiving—in individuals’ lives. Collectively titled “Mapping Ourselves,” the activities combine personal reflection and data drawing in a series of exercises that help participants understand the community of people who contribute to their well-being.

Lupi collaborated closely with Atlas founder and CEO Rajiv Mehta on the project. Atlas uses research, workshops and self-help tools to enable people to visualize the invisible “care ecosystems” in their lives, with the end goal of enhancing self-understanding and mindfulness. The organization is affiliated with the Quantified Self (QS) movement, a community of people around the world who develop and use tools and methods to examine their personal lives in order to improve them.

“Mapping Ourselves” features low-tech tools for observing, visualizing and analyzing different aspects of life that might impact our sense of health and wellness. The activities have been conceived to help participants see their community and value what they contribute to and receive from the people around them—and importantly, how these networks and interactions are interconnected. The tools are presented in a workbook that guides participants through the process of each activity.

The Pentagram team developed the concept and experience of the program, from the focus of each activity and its particular data set, to the process of collecting data and sharing it with others in collaborative, community-building workshops. Participants observe their own behavior, interactions and personal networks, then translate the data into drawings using a legend provided for each tool. “Mapping Ourselves” can be experienced as a day-long workshop or as a take-home activity, where participants record their data each day. After the data drawing is completed, participants answer questions to reflect on the process, before sharing them with others. 

At a time when personal well-being seems increasingly dependent on science and technology, the activities of “Mapping Ourselves” are decidedly analog and accessible to almost anyone. The project centers around the value in interpersonal connections, and utilizes the principles of “data humanism”—focusing on data that people can actually relate to, rather than as something that must be impersonal and intimidating. In her work, Lupi uses data as a tool to understand human nature and to reveal patterns we don’t always see.

Lupi first collaborated with Atlas of Caregiving in 2015 on the Atlas CareMap, an activity that asked participants to diagram the relationships, connections and interactions of the people they care for, and who care for them, and where they give or receive help, support or advice. The hand-drawn sketches are simply rendered but socially complex, visualizing the often invisible threads of care with family, friends, coworkers, doctors and other healthcare professionals, neighbors and even pets. Drawing the networks helps the participants better understand their current situation and plan for any potential difficulties. 

Family caregivers found the CareMap so useful that Atlas began leading workshops to teach more people how to create their own visualizations. The sessions were intentionally designed for empathetic listening and engagement amongst participants. As people talked about who they cared for and who they received care from, Atlas started to notice how the conversations seamlessly moved from care for oneself and family to care for one’s community.

Building on the success of the CareMap, Atlas approached Lupi and her team at Pentagram to develop additional activities that could address other aspects of community-building. The designers found inspiration in Lupi’s earlier “Dear Data” project, in which she and collaborator Stefanie Posavec observed aspects of their daily lives and documented them in hand-drawn visualizations on postcards that they sent to one another over the course of an entire year. Lupi and Posavec subsequently created Observe, Collect, Draw!, a workbook that guided readers through the process of documenting their own lives.

Lupi first realized the power of personal data collection as a tool for health and well-being with “Bruises,” a collaboration with the musician Kaki King that documented the illness of King’s child in a series of drawings. Making daily observations on physical symptoms and lab results as well as emotional responses gave the family a humanizing sense of empowerment in the face of illness.

The Pentagram team began the design process for “Mapping Ourselves” by observing a typical Atlas of Caregiving workshop. Noting the critical role of conversation amongst the participants, the designers conceived five new activities that are designed to provoke dialogue:

Social Networks—Who do you work or socialize with, and what roles do they fill in your life? Map out the people who inhabit your life to become more aware of your relationships with them.

Conversations—Who do you talk with, and how does it impact you? Observe your conversations over time to become more aware of whether they leave you energized or drained.

Daily Activities—What do you spend your time doing? Track your activities to see where you devote time and how that impacts your mood and sense of satisfaction.

Environment—How do the spaces you inhabit affect your mood and performance? Observe the different physical environments you inhabit to better understand how they impact your sense of well-being.

Body Connection—What is your body telling you? Visualize how your body and mind feel throughout the day to find out how they are connected.

The Atlas CareMap has been redesigned to live seamlessly alongside the other activities and serves as an entry point to the series. 

Each activity in the “Mapping Ourselves” workbook features a worksheet for daily collection of the specified data set and clear instructions for translating the information into an unique data drawing. The designers developed grids that are easy to fill in from day to day and a system of graphic symbols and marks that are colorful and visually interesting.

As “Mapping Ourselves” workshops roll out in various communities, they will help people discover how they can apply the observational and analytical skills they already have to collect and understand their own data and use it to improve their lives.

New York
Giorgia Lupi
Project team
Sarah Kay Miller
Ting Fang Cheng
Phillip Cox
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