Personal Data Narratives

How do making and materials contribute to our understanding of personal data representations? To explore how materials, data, and humans collaborate to produce physical data representations, we created a series of artifacts from personal data we collected (about commuting, forgetting, and busy-ness) in different media: yarn and sound.

We used these data artefacts to interrogate the boundaries between maker and interpreter, and to ask who—or what—has the authority to interpret narrative and assign meaning to data things? We exchanged these artefacts without providing guidelines for how to interpret them in order to study where the boundary between maker and interpreter emerges. In exchanging the artefacts, we explored the role of the interpreter as a re-maker and how multiple narratives can productively co-exist. We conclude with a discussion about how reimagining the roles of maker and interpreter might lead to new interactions with personal data narratives.

To learn more about our work, read the full paper here or watch a video presentation:


Quantuition: Exploring the Future of Representing Biometric Data

In a future where we track everything, how will data representations dictate how we relate to ourselves and the world? This speculative design project explores the relationship between personal biometric data and the meaning we find in it.

Quantuition is a speculative self-tracking system that collects data from body-based nanosensors. The system renders that data into 3D data sculptures. Presented in the form of an Instagram feed, this speculation highlights how data-design influences the process of individual and social sense-making. We often ascribe power and authority to data representations — while simultaneously overlooking the hidden decisions embedded in those representations about what to measure, analyze, emphasize and display.

This schematic shows the basic steps of using the Quantuition system, from ingesting and applying the nano-sensors, to collecting and transmitting the data, to producing 3D-printed data objects.

When self-tracking becomes pervasive, are we ruled by data or do we rule it? In the near future, personal sensors track everything: how fast our hair is growing, the amount of dust we inhale, how many tears we cry. As we become aware of these myriad personal data points, they could overwhelm us. How do we draw meaning from this data? How do our interpretations of this data influence our actions, and what are the implications of these new feedback loops?

This Instagram feed tells the story of a user integrating Quantuition into her life.

This project raises several provocations for tangible data futures:

  • What new interpersonal interactions does data physicalization uncover?
  • What positive and negative feedback loops are present in a hyper-quantified future?
  • How will emerging technology shape the relationship between data representations and actions?
  • Where does the user’s control – and free will – begin and end?

This work was submitted to the TEI 2019 Student Design Competition, where it won the award for best concept/design.

Read the project paper | View the poster