Federica Fragapane is a young information designer who in 2014 obtained the Master of Science, Communication Design at the Milan Polytechnic University. Her data visualizations have been published in important Italian and international magazines such as Wired UK, Wired Italy and are regularly hosted on La Lettura, the cultural Saturday insert of the Corriere della Sera. Besides data and its graphic representation, she has also always been interested in theater. We are going to try to make you discover something more about Federica, about data visualization and about what she prefers to sing in the shower.
Federica Fragapane, as mentioned, is an information designer, a relatively new professional figure who, perhaps for this reason, has not yet found a definition shared by industry theoreticians. Explain what the definition of information designer is for you, and what do you think in general are the characteristics of this profession?
The practice of information design is linked to the communication and organization of information: in general, this is what an information designer deals with and which I also take care of. More specifically, over the years I have specialized in data visualization, working for organizations, companies, magazines and in general for publishers.
Studying the path you have followed in your career, in addition to your passion for theater we will return to, your experiences with now internationally established companies such as Density Design, the research laboratory of the Polytechnic of Milan of the group of Paolo Ciuccarelli, and especially Accurat, an all-Italian company of the highest level that for years has carved out a leading role in the world of international Data Visualization, really stand out. Could you describe the two experiences from the point of view of the work you did, and the added value that brought you? What is the main difference between the two and what are the strengths of these two realities?
Both experiences have been fundamental for me from a professional point of view.Attending the Density Design course at the Politecnico allowed me to enter into a relationship with the world of Information Design, and to understand and appreciate its many facets and potentialities. The course provided me with the fundamental bases from which to start a personal and professional research in the field of data visualization, and made me passionate about the possibility of analyzing and visualizing current and urgent complex and thematic phenomena. I find that the space given to the relationship between relevant and significant contents and their visualization is an important strength of Density.
Working at Accurat allowed me to explore many of the potentials of data visualization and to experiment visually, which is very important to me. Furthermore, the trust and the responsibilities that have been given to me over the years have greatly helped my professional growth. Although there are different purposes compared to the course of Density Design – being a researcher in a laboratory has a different relationship with the commercial world – over the years spent in Accurat the study, research and experimentation have always played a key role. I think this is a great strength of Accurat, along with having a team of really talented people (and to whom I am very fond of).
In medio stat virtus it is a Latin phrase already present however in the Greek philosophers that invites to search as much as possible the right equilibrium between the extremes. With the time, I have learned with a little surprise I admit, to appreciate the virtues balance, the search for balance that gives stability. If you think about what must be an infinite dialectic between aesthetics and functionality of data visualizations and phenomena, what are your ideas about the concept of equilibrium?
The search for a balance between aesthetics and functionality is a constant in my work. The level of complexity of my views can change a lot depending on the client, the purposes and especially the context of use. The visualizations I create for La Lettura, for example, are complex, because they start from difficult datasets and are the result of constant experimentation and research into new visual languages. And just to balance this aesthetic complexity, I spend a lot of time creating a legend that explains how to read the visualization. Every time I design a visualization for reading, I do it by creating a new visual alphabet and for this reason readers must have a clear key to read.
In any case, the context of use is fundamental. La Lettura is a cultural supplement that comes out over the weekend and the visualizations I realize are linked to a “slow” type of reading: designing a visualization for reading is for me an act not very different from that of writing a long article or a story that can be read calmly. Surely there is a first level of information more immediate, but at this level I usually add more details, which can be read and analysed taking the time to do it and having the tools to do so. Totally different, for example, are the graphics – much simpler and more classic – that I designed for the United Nations Environment Program: in this case the context of use means that the scale must move more on the side of functionality. I therefore believe that keeping a balance between aesthetics and functionality is fundamental, but that the ways in which this balance are achieved can change according to the type of project.
Data visualization, a relatively young field, still lives a phase of experimentation, research and conquest of both techniques, tools, tastes and styles. What do you think are some of the areas in which there are still wide margins of experimentation, and what are future developments in the use and dissemination of data visualizations that have not yet been taken into consideration?
I think that data visualization has potential for experimentation and research in many different fields, from the medical to the social and also in the artistic field. Personally I am very interested in the relationship between data and people, and the visualization of data seen as a tool to give voice to people. In a period like this, where data has become a precious commodity – and for this reason it is sometimes “stolen” – I find it may be important and useful to display information provided voluntarily (important to specify) by people to give them voice. This concept is related to one of the last projects I’ve worked on, “The Stories Behind a Line“.
The site is a visual narrative of the journey of six asylum seekers who arrived in Italy in 2016, and who agreed to tell me their story and their journey. The purpose for me was to use the potential of data visualization to deal with a relevant and complex issue such as migratory flows, providing an extra point of view, which is very personal and – for this very reason – very valuable. The data that I have collected and then displayed is very simple: travel days, kilometers traveled, means of transport and I think that precisely because of their simplicity they can be communicatively meaningful. Working on this project, getting in touch with these people and their stories, and then seeing the different reactions after the publication (reactions that have positively affected me) are all aspects that made me understand how data visualization can become an important tool not only to communicate to people, but also to give them a voice.
Theater is one of your great passions both as an interpreter and as an author. What do you think is, if it exists, the link that connects data, its visualization, theater and its representation?
I think my passion for theater has an influence on my approach to data visualization and I think, yes, there is a link because in both cases it is a communicative act. In both cases there is a message that is transmitted, a “public” to which the message is addressed and a range of different ways in which this message can be transmitted. I noticed that the way I work with a show (as an author or an actress) and a visualization of the data are not so different. To give an example, when I write or visualize I always try to dose words or visual elements: in my visualisations each element always has a precise function, without decorativism, and the same happens with the words I write. The fact that a character is on a stage and is dressed in a certain way responds to a motif, as does the fact that a visual element has a position in a chart and is of a certain color.Then there is the emotional side, which I think can be interesting to explore. In these years I have been working on an experiment, a cross between theater and data visualization. There is a show, “The point is this”, which I staged for the first time more than a year ago and where what happens on stage and the dialogues between the characters are also translated visually and projected. I think that data visualization can give theater a new interesting visual component and that theater can enrich it with its emotional load.
Your working environment, although involving different fields that go from graphics to statistics and beyond, I think we can also approach from the world of information and communication. Starting from the fact that more and more information is available for everyone, that there is more or less a free the opportunity to get informed on every topic, how would you explain this rising feeling of closure, acidity pessimism and lack of confidence in tomorrow that is spreading among people?
I think that unfortunately this wonderful opportunity to find out information easily, is flanked by an exploitation of the opportunity itself for questionable purposes. I believe that this kind of accessibility to information means that there is also a need for a good level of critical capacity and discernment: not everything that is written is true, and often false / semi-false / misinformed information is disseminated precisely to exacerbate this closed feeling. It is certainly not a new phenomenon, which increases exponentially with technological advancement.
A data visualization has a relevant artistic component made of shapes and colors appropriate to the theme and the data to show. What is your relationship with the world of graphics? Tell us 3 names of graphic designers or illustrators that you love and explain the reason why.
Before any new project I always take a moment to let myself be inspired by visual forms and colors that I find beautiful and visually satisfying, but I must say that more than the graphics I draw from the world of art or nature. Thinking about this, a first name that comes to mind is that of Katsushika Hokusai, for his elegance and colors. I am in love with the illustrations of Quentin Blake, probably because as a child I read a lot of books accompanied by his illustrations. And then there is Vincent van Gogh, because the emotional charge of his works has a very strong impact on me.
Scrolling through the many themes that you have chosen for your visualisations, including the United Nations Environment Program, the crime in Northern Italy, the drug trafficking and others, I realize how many of them concern issues that have to do with the problems of our society. I imagine that this is not only due to the target audience and the hold that your work must have on readers, but also to your personal choices that imply a feeling of being part of something bigger, of a community.As far as I am concerned, I am convinced that certain choices are, small examples that in turn come from references that we have made on our own and that unconsciously guide us in our behavior.What are three examples, three figures that you think played a fundamental role in your being, that have made you become what you are today?
Yes, in many cases I propose the themes to be visualised and I find that this is a great responsibility and that it is right to use it to deal with relevant and significant issues.Surely there are references that more or less unconsciously have played a role in guiding my choices. As a first figure there are my parents and my brother (uniting them in a single figure!). And then I think that two important figures for me were Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. I remember reading their story as a young girl, and I think their lives struck me and at the time had some impact on what they are today.
A TED talk of a few years ago struck because it had the title “Optimism as a form of struggle”.In the short video the author tried to show the immense effort that can undergo the continuous search for a better tomorrow. What do you think today is optimism and on what basis does it make sense to define oneself?
I do not know if I am the best person to talk about optimism, because my approach to optimism is composed of very high and very low peaks! For me, being optimistic means trusting, I think it’s a very difficult act but that we also need it in our lives. I believe that each of us in the span of our life have sooner or later come across a proverb, a motto, a quote to which we have become attached over time, that has played a role in the choices of life or that simply helps in difficult moments or in our everyday professional work.
What is the phrase which Federica Fragapane chooses to close this interview and especially what are the reasons you choose it?
<<Do not bend; do not water it down; do not try to make it logical; do not edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. >>
It is often attributed to Franz Kafka, but apparently it was written by Anne Rice. It is a phrase that I often think of, it summarizes the way I see many aspects of my life and spurs me a bit when I have doubts about what I do!
THE LAUNDRY ROOM
The movie in which your eyes do not have brakes and tears flow regularly.
In general it depends on the moment rather than on the film. At the right time I cry without problems even for Dumbo.
Which shapes and colors would you choose to create Federica Fragapane data visualization?
The shapes and colors of the leaves.
The film you wanted to be the protagonist of.
Speaking “as an actress”, practically any film with Anna Magnani.
Last time you remember getting goose bumps and why.
Every time I read racist / misogynist / homophobic comments on social media, because they bring to the surface a part of the world that frightens me, but it should not be ignored.
The song you think you sang most often in the shower.
They Cannot Take That Away From Me (without really remembering the words and in my mind in the version sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong).
The moment you said “I love you” for the first time.
The wrong one!