Giorgia Lupi, information designer and co-founder of Accurat, explains how drawing can lead to new ways of seeing and understanding.
Why do you draw?
I draw to freely explore possibilities. I draw to visually understand what I am thinking. I draw to evaluate my ideas and intuitions by seeing them coming to life on paper. I draw to help my mind think without limitations, without boundaries.
Drawing plays an important role in the production and communication of knowledge, and in the genesis of new ideas. It illustrates how instinctively our perception is directed towards finding meaning in things, recognising things. The act of drawing, and the very fact we choose to stop and draw, demands focus and attention. I use drawing as my primary expression, as a sort of functional tool for capturing and exploring thoughts.
For me, drawing is also an obsession: I always carry pens, pencils and paper in any situation. I cannot think about a project without a pen and some paper. Drawing is my way to understand that I had an idea in the first place. Besides, I take an incredible pleasure in tracing lines on paper and seeing abstract shapes come alive.
When does drawing become design?
I see design as a way to translate a structural concept for a specific audience, through a specific medium. It is also the process of visual planning and organising the choices made along the way of a project, given the specific boundaries of it. Drawing becomes design when you start tracing lines that help you rationalise what you think, and envision a possible solution. When it comes to designing data visualisations, I see three phases. One is understanding the macro categories to start sketching the first visual possibilities to organise the data, its ‘architecture’. Then I focus on the singular elements, the entry points, to figure out which shapes, colours and features we might invent to represent the sub-categories. Finally, we structure what I’d expect to eventually have in Illustrator software, but on paper. Isn’t drawing already ‘design’ in these phases? I think so.
What impact would you most like to have through your drawings?
I don’t draw to have an impact, I draw for myself. My drawings are never final pieces. I think this is something very personal. The most important impact I want my drawings to have is to lead me towards new, unexpected and beautiful visual design solutions, to create powerful and unusual visual compositions with data. In fact, I really want our work to be accurate, but beautiful and disruptive to a certain extent.
Do you see yourself as part of a data visualisation movement?
What drives me is the search for multiple ways to create unexpected, beautiful things in a way that can accurately represent complex systems of information. More generally, I think there are many reasons for the popularity of data visualisations. People are exposed to an increasing stream of content from many sources; bright and catchy images such as infographics fit perfectly into this media diet, playing with hierarchies to provide multiple levels of possible readings within a single piece. Of course, the proliferation of a number of easy-to-use and free tools has made the creation of infographics available to a large segment of the population, even non-experts.
What does it mean to be a designer?
To be a designer you have to find new ways to attract attention through new languages, products and solutions that – besides being functional and appropriate – must be magnetic and surprising. There are no universal answers to ‘how’ one does that. I think that I would simply say that it’s important not to leave any possibilities unexplored; and that it’s important to pursue logical solutions while freely letting the imagination flow.
Sometimes a great idea can come unexpectedly. Free explorations in design can lead to insights and epiphanies that cannot be always anticipated with a rational design approach. What I always do when I start every kind of project is allow myself to have time to get inspired by the world around me, while having the ‘brief’ in mind. I spend a great amount of time looking for visual inspiration, which I carefully organise on Pinterest.
What advice would you give to someone who can’t draw?
There is a lot of freedom in drawing; sometimes this freedom can scare and paralyse you. Complete freedom is never very good for coming up with truly disruptive ideas.
Even in my personal project I set constraints. What I would suggest is to start with a topic you want to explore (or redraw), and some rules for the final output, and then just start. And do it again. And do it again.
Draw for yourself, not for anybody else. And approach drawing less scientifically, more naively.
I draw without any prejudice: letting my hand go freely, without asking if it makes sense for the project in that very moment. Then I look at what I’ve drawn and decide whether to work on it, engaging this loop between thoughts, paper and sight.
Giorgia Lupi is co-founder and Design Director at Accurat, an information design company based in Milan and New York.
Image credit: Giorgia Lupi