I have a huge set of personal data that I want to visualize for my final project. This work will be part of my thesis as well. The data is for my Databetes project. I did a quantified self project through all of 2012. I collected every data point that influenced my type-1 diabetes. This included blood sugar readings, food (carb counts, meal descriptions, photos, Foursquare restaurant check-ins), exercise (i trained and ran a marathon, used RunKeeper, a FitBit, Nike FuelBand, heart rate monitor), location information (OpenPaths data), and insulin dosages.
For thesis, I have proposed three sets of deliverables: A mobile phone app (our MVP called Meal Memory), a website (our demo of Databetes) and a set of data visualizations. I would like to tackle the third deliverable with my Printing Code final project.
I have conflicting instincts on the nature of this work. Part of what I want to produce falls into the realm of data as narrative. I’ve always loved Nick Felton’s work. Yet it will be interesting to try and do work that is inspired by him but manages to present the data differently. I also hope that this style of work will be educational for the patient, allowing them to learn something from their data, adjust their treatment and get healthier. I’ve always felt there are two questions that are most important to a patient and should be answered when the data is being displayed in a more utilitarian way: “How am I doing?” and “Specifically how could I do better?” This is relevant to the first style of data I referenced.
The other instinct I have is more artistic. Can I create something more abstract that uses data as its source, that draws someone in and works as good design. I want this work to be engaging, so that there if you know how to read the work, you realize that it too could be educational even though it works well on its own.
I feel like Databetes has a few different audiences as a project started at ITP. People in the diabetes community get it because they understand blood sugar levels, carbohydrate counts and all the other factors relevant to this condition. They are also familiar with the existing visual styles out there to present this data and how my work is different. But at ITP, most people don’t understand this context. And fair enough, there are a lot of conditions out there that I don’t understand in detail. I only have about 10-15 minutes to present at thesis. I have been iterating on this project for two years and have already produced a lot. But I still have a lot more ideas on visualizing this data that I would like to explore.
I do think there is overlap in the two approaches I mentioned. The simple thread is that I want to produce something engaging. The existing medical devices and software are designed in such a way that it’s a bit of a challenge to get your data off of them. As a result, a vast majority of patients never interact with their data. I think that is unfortunate for several reasons, most importantly because I think they could live healthier if they did. Using my own data, I am trying to show both patients and these companies the value in being more engaged, in loosening the controls on the information so that innovative new approaches on using this data could take hold. It is also a challenge for me as a designer and a programmer to expand my skills.
As for the output, I have several ideas. I am thinking about producing a foldable poster to print and hand out at thesis. It would have one big image on one side and a selection of smaller images on the other side. The big image, I am thinking it should either be a simple and abstract (i.e. more artistic) image, potentially of 90,000+ blood sugar readings. The other idea is that in one image it presents all the different data types together.
For other types of deliverables, I thought about producing a poster for each month of the year. Data could also be presented in week formats or with one image that shows all 366 days of the year. These displays can also look at the relational connections and how things like exercise influence blood sugar control, either during the actual exercise, or in a broader context (when you’re in better shape, your body becomes more efficient and needs less insulin).
It is not lost on me that this is a lot. When I launched this project a year and a half ago, I assumed this data visualization would be the main focus of thesis. Instead, most of my time has been spent getting our software working. This is because we want to make this into a business and also because we are currently competing in the Stern Entrepreneur Challenge. Nonetheless, I am still very interested in diving into the data and seeing whether some of these ideas I have for presenting the data will actually work graphically. And most importantly, I am also interested to see if I can learn more about my diabetes through these designs and get healthier.
Here are two images from my second homework assignment for Printing Code. It’s a design and programming class where we work in Processing and then print out our assignments each week to display in class. This week’s assignment was to create a design with two shapes, one inspired by the word “wet” and the other “sharp.” This is the print I presented in class.