Meet the Cover Artist Native commissioned data artist Stefanie Posavec to create a cover design for our first edition. She tells us more about her visual representation of the 2013 Digital Culture dataset, illustrating 891 responses to the first year survey of the R&D Fund’s longitudinal study of how arts and cultural organisations in England use technology.
When working on a commission like this, the first thing I think about is the context. A magazine cover gives me flexibility — I can create something symbolic and inviting. I start with the spreadsheets in Excel, and look for patterns within the data. I look for ways they could be expressed aesthetically and how the data points relate to each other. I started off by looking for interesting subsets in this data, but decided that it felt more appropriate to represent the richness of the whole data set. When looking at raw data, I can see which chart type will suit the data. Certain data types can only be represented with certain chart types, so this knowledge helps me understand what visual outcomes are possible.
I came up with a number of options and we went with this leaf-like style. Each leaf of the illustration is a data table from the responses, which is either a direct multiple choice question from the survey or a table which the research team created to make sense of results. The number of available question responses on those data tables is represented by the number of small circles, so if there were four responses to a particular question, that leaf has four circles. How those circles are shaded then represents the weightings of those responses; these are shaded based on 0–25%, 26–50%, 51–75% and 76–100%. I call it a data illustration because while it’s based on accurate data, it’s meant to communicate an idea of the research’s complexity and depth, rather than be insightful in and of itself. I made it using my notebook and Adobe Illustrator. I mainly work by hand but I’m starting to feel that I’m reaching the edge of what’s possible, that if I want to do something more complex I need to learn how to code. I’m teaching myself Processing (the programming language). I’d like to learn enough so that I can test ideas, even if they are not perfectly rendered. I’m also really interested in how the generated or digitally-made and the hand-made can work together rather being seen as different techniques.
— Stefanie Posavec is a data artist and information designer based in London who has made work with and for the V&A, Facebook, Channel 4 and Wired. — stefanieposavec.co.uk @stefpos —