The label may be wrong.

I’ve lived in the U.S for now close to 6 years. Before this, I was raised in France for more than 20 years. Now, I’m stuck between two worlds.

You’d think these shouldn’t be too different. They are. First yes, you won’t find a good baguette in the U.S. Second, despite some similarities, the language, the food, the way of expressing yourself *screaming over politics at dinner parties*.. and more feel completely opposite to one another.

In the U.S, I’ve always, and still, feel a bit out of place. I liked good cheese and good wine. I was (am) shy. I don’t like hugs.

Now when I come home, I’m also a foreigner. I confuse words (or forget them altogether). I’m vegetarian and I have tattoos *or according to my grand parents, “a mark of the rejection of my own culture”*. In the U.S, I’m French. Here in France, I’m now labelled as the “hippie”.

Aren’t labels such an interesting concept?

In data, we need labels. Labels about where we live, our salary, our weight. But, also, labels on less defined concepts like race, origins, political opinions, religion, diet and level of happiness.

And these labels don’t always seem to make the most sense.

For instance, I’ve observed an interesting behavior from others towards my dear partner. In America, he’s Black. Here in France, he’s American only. Being from another country erases an aspect of his identity that would usually be noticed first.

This recalls the debate happening around the Census answers to the race question or choices made around gender selection in forms. Because reducing an identity to one label fails to acknowledge the complex reality of a person.

So yes, we do need labels in data. But are we really using the right labels? Could we ask better questions? Could we offer more nuanced labels?

Could we simply omit certain labels when not necessary?

I don’t know about you but I’m ready to stop defining people by their labels. By only their gender, race or political affiliation. At least, when it’s not needed for the understanding of our intricate world.

Written with amour from France,

Gabrielle


An old article on SolarPunk that Duncan Geere shared with me and got me optimistic for… some time?

An informed and elegant answer to a “your work is garbage” tweet: Unsolicited Feedback by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.


The Elevate membership program is live! Led by Alli Torban, Duncan Geere, Will Chase and myself, this private group is dedicated to current and aspiring information designers. The goal of the program is to give you tutorials, resources, and a community to help you level-up your data viz skills. If you would like to join the membership program, click on this link to become a member at the special discounted beta rate of $20 USD/month.

Pardon my French

Some of you may not know that I’m a 100% Made in France product. I was born and raised in the French country side an hour away from Paris. Among horses, a green forest and catholic-families-of-5-kids, in a small *gorgeous* town named Fontainebleau.

Fortunately, I picked up English quite fast, and my accent is not as strong as most internationals would expect from French people. This allows me to live incognito among expats and english-speakers. Although I’m often betrayed by my love for cheese and baguette.

But I digress.

The thing is… I’m losing my French. Of course, it is the only language I spoke until my 20-year-old birthday. But in the last few years, I’ve almost only been practicing it during my monthly calls with my mother.

It has become incredibly difficult to find my words. Today, during a meeting, my tongue kept tripping over syllables. œil became eye, perspective became input and I became frustrated.

How can one lose their native language so fast?

Without practice, it simply went away. However, I know, intuitively, that after a couple of months back in my home country, my French heritage will take over again. Then, I’ll be as fluent as a stylish arrogant Parisien.

Why am I sharing this with you today? Because my painful French conversation made me reflect on how fast one loses a talent when not trained daily.

And man… some of mine have been waning this year:

  • I’ve been losing my focus and grabbing my phone while conversing with friends.

  • I’ve been losing my traditional drawing skills.

  • I’ve been losing my compassion (towards anti-vaxxers, and my neighbor who fills up our recycling trash with styrofoam(!)).

  • I’ve been losing my ability to appreciate the blazing Californian sunsets on the beach.

It’s a painful conclusion. It’s a wake-up call. To remember practicing what I love and may have put aside for a while.

What skills have you forgotten to exercise this year?

Kindly,

Gabrielle


A relevant question: Why aren’t we more compassionate?

When Media plays the blame game:
The good, bad and ugly of the media coverage of Afghanistan

I’ve been dancing:
Heat Waves by Glass Animals

We're f*cking this up.

I know, I know. You didn’t sign up for this.

But man, as a species, humanity has been failing at sustaining its own environment. Or in simpler term, “we’re making a mess”.

In 2015, I went almost a full year plastic-free. It sucked. It sucked even more as most alternatives to animal products didn’t come without plastic. I had managed to find cow milk and cheese in bulk, but almond milk and tofu… not so much. My somewhat restricted vegetarian diet became close to impossible to achieve. Plastic or slaughter, pick your poison.

So I gave up (the plastic resistance, not the vegetarian diet).

In 2018, my partner and I discovered the existence of the Citizen’ Climate Lobby - CCL. This felt like a great way to participate in a communal effort to make a difference. A *real* change. I signed up to the local chapter. After three weeks, 23 emails, 2 long meetings, I realized the CCL in my neighborhood may not be the life-saving opportunity I was looking for. All positions were taken by long-term volunteers who simply refused to do any communication outside of tables at local Farmers Market and couldn’t figure out their password to Mailchimp.

This is not to criticize their work. They did important work. In a way that made sense for them. But for the introvert that I am, distributing tracts to uninterested pedestrians felt like climbing Mt Everest wearing scuba diving fins.

So I gave up.

In 2019, lost with my career path, I started creating data visualizations about subjects that mattered. To me. The climate crisis was just one of them. And somehow, I ended up receiving positive feedback (*likes, yikes*), threats in my DMs, and making it my full-time job.

So I didn’t give up.

It’s 2021 now. And I find myself wonder if data visualizations are still the way. Our job as data visualization practitioners is often to “raise awareness”. These days, raising awareness is not enough. In fact, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, raising awareness can have “ineffective and even harmful effects”.

Now, I’m back to my original position, again, asking myself: how can I help to prevent us, humans, from f*cking this up? And in a world where I’d like to make a good living, while doing good, this question becomes an even heavier one. Am I f*cking this up?

How to live sustainably in a world without sustainable choices?
How to be financially comfortable without selling my soul to evil corporations?
How to be part of the change when I am, by birth, part of the problem?

This is not a letter of despair. This is a reminder for myself - and maybe some of you too - that feeling powerless is part of the process.

Also, take a break. We’re human after all.

Kindly,

Gabrielle


On the dehumanization of the visa process (if only you knew!): Your Papers Have No Personality — Nereya Otieno

A quote from Massimo Vignelli about the vulgarity of design created by marketers: “I consider this action criminal since it is producing visual pollution that is degrading our environment just like all other types of pollution.”


There was blood on the floor.

Mozart - named after the famous compositor due to his curious habit of meowing around without purpose - didn’t seem so well. After a whole week, I gave up on my hope of a natural recovery. It was time to take my adorable animal to his least favorite place: the vet.

Getting a vet for a semi-emergency, after one year of pandemic that is still occurring, is a challenge. We called a dozen of places, drove to another two and ended up at an emergency center. As we approach the outdoor check-in line, I noticed bright red drops on the concrete in front of the table. There was blood on the floor.

Let me tell you, blood doesn’t do much to me. Not only do I not care about needles, I am also pretty stoic when it comes to *needling* someone else (thanks my lab experience with mice). But damn, blood on this floor where anxious pet owners had to walk felt wrong.

I will spare you the full rant about my experience at this Vet Center. It went wrong. No phone calls back, hours of delay in silence, exorbitant pricing and eventually, a traumatized and undiagnosed cat back at my home. After 10 hours, alone in a cage, without eating and drinking.

The whole time I kept thinking about these red marks. Somehow, these bloody leftovers felt like a signal of the experience to come. It also reminded of the experience related by patients around the world in hospitals. How certain diagnostics are sometimes thrown at us, without consideration for the stress they generate. How cold the hospitals can feel when we are looking for reassurance.

I do not blame the hospitals, nor the doctors, nor the vet center employees that day, for not cleaning up the floor. They were too understaffed, overwhelmed and underpaid to bother with these details. But it made me wonder:

How many times do our data pieces highlight information, without addressing the discomfort this information could bring? How can we make sure our designs take accountability for the stress, grief, heartache they sometimes bring along? Can we create an experience to address the emotional consequences of data?


Personally, I’ve decided to add a helpful resource or a link to an organization to support, for each of my data illustration on Instagram. I don’t know if it helps. I don’t know if people click. I don’t know if it allows them to take action. But I’ll keep trying. To give an outlet to the anger, fear, helplessness that these numbers create. If not to the reader, to myself.

Kindly,

Gabrielle



PS: Before I get emails about how irresponsible I am about my pet. Mozart is getting premium personal treatment at home, he’s okay! And we will be taking him to another vet specialized in cat soon.


Adam J. Kurtz: Perfect Isn’t Better

I feel so angry about how we failed to get people vaccinated: “Sorry, but it’s too late”


Buried behind words

Before I get to it, I hope you are safe and happy wherever you are. It’s been hot, polluted, inundated and COVID-infected in all parts of the world. Climate Change & Human crisis you know.

Back to the subject.

Today, I added an axis and all the legends on one of my data doodles. And, the illustration disappeared behind the annotations. If I had been working on paper, I would have probably trashed it. “Information easy to understand”: but you still have to read all these notes to get the message?

This is the moment where I admit data visualization frustrates me. I design like I speak. With very long and iterative paragraphs. Adding nuances over nuances. As I write this letter, I catch myself erasing my words, dissecting sentences, adding commas.

“Dans son oeil, ciel livide où germe l’ouragan,
La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue.”

”From her eye, livid sky where the hurricane is born,
The softness that fascinates and the pleasure that kills,”


In 1857, Charles Baudelaire publish these striking sentences - as part of my favorite poem À Une Passante. *The English translation doesn’t pay it justice*

In 18 words and two comma *a little more, there’s a whole poem*, he describes the visual encounter of a wild, mysterious woman with a man, left to meditate on the love that could have been. He doesn’t write what her name was, how old was the man, what their romance could be. He writes enough to draw a human act in our minds.

I would like to create data visualizations like poems. To hold space for compassion. Precise and straightforward. Simple but nuanced. Grave but hopeful.

Kindly,

Gabrielle


Cole Schafer is the master of copywriting: His ‘Sticky Notes’ newsletter
Lougè Delcy’s incandescent portraits:
Dapperlou Website


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