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'Every time you enter a completely different world, you learn.'
Gems in this
Multifaceted, award-winning information designer Giorgia Lupi’s work possesses the unique ability to communicate beyond borders and language barriers. A working life lived between Italian and American cultures has helped hone Giorgia’s powerful design approach, in which she deploys data and graphics to tell a story. Her creativity is further fueled by the vibrant energy of New York City and her upstate escapes.
Now a partner at Pentagram, Giorgia works with brands including Google, IBM, MoMA, and the Gates Foundation. Her work has been featured in the New Yorker, National Geographic, Forbes, and the New York Times, and she has been included on Fast Company’s list of the 100 most creative people in business. She has also co-authored two books and given a Ted Talk on her humanistic approach to data. We caught up with Giorgia to talk about where her creativity takes her and top spots to spend time in New York City.
On finding your way to New York
I’m from a little town close to Modena in the north center of Italy where balsamic vinegar is from, and all the luxury cars. I lived around Modena for the first 20 years of my life. Then I went to university in Ferrara, then moved to Milan a year after my graduation and lived there for five years before moving to New York in 2012. I’ve been in New York for nine years. In 2011 I co-founded my own company with others in Milan and I also started a PhD in design. With the PhD program I had the opportunity to spend six months abroad and I decided to go to New York. I was always intrigued by the city and it started as an experience with an expiration date, but by day three I wanted to figure out how to live here. I’ve been here ever since.
On defining creativity
What is creativity? Creativity is a way of thinking that we all have, of connecting the dots that we all have. I don’t necessarily like the word creativity, so I'm trying to overcome it. I would use ‘design’ instead, or ‘having ideas’. I really think everybody needs to fuel themselves with things they’re truly curious and passionate about, and that needs to happen on a daily basis. It’s not about ‘I need to be creative now’. Creativity is an ongoing way of seeing the world, inquiring about situations and being curious about things. That is really my approach. Reading, looking at things, building my inspiration boards — not necessarily always with a specific project in mind, but just doing it as a practice.
On being an information designer
I am an information designer, and what I do is design with data, which spans from graphic design with data, to editorial, to branding, to environmental graphics for analog and digital experiences, so really encompassing all of the possible outputs and working with any kind of sector. I work with cultural institutions, nonprofits, big companies and brands, healthcare, finance — it’s really a broad spectrum. And what brings it all together is using data that is already there. Sometimes an organization already has data, but most of the time it’s actually crafted by myself and our team in collaboration with our clients. Data as a creative and design material to build out experiences: that’s what I do.
On seeing creativity in numbers
I have a masters in architecture because 20 years ago, when I was deciding what to do for college, I didn't even know that data visualization was a thing. So it was more how to merge my need for numbers and scientific grounding, but also my need to express myself creatively. I think I've always had this tension between numbers and images, logic and intuition. I think it’s easy for me to say in hindsight that has always been a focus of mine, but really, even in high school, I loved math and chemistry and all the scientific fields, but I also loved art and drawing. So I studied architecture and was fascinated by urban mapping and cartography in terms of the city, which, if you think about it, is in and of itself a sort of information design language. More and more I was intrigued by using this information design system not only to describe geography, but also to describe every other aspect of our lives. I think progressively, I fell in love with the idea of using data as my creative material.
'I was always intrigued by New York, and it started as an experience with an expiration date, but by day three I was trying to figure out how to live here. I’ve been here ever since.'
On deciding what projects to take on
There are a lot of things we do with our team that are self-initiated. I think the projects that we enjoy the most are the ones where we have some ideas and concepts. Then we experiment freely, almost without the client, instead being the client ourselves and creating experiences that might be digital or analog. The self-initiated projects are always a part of how I think I’ve been pushing forward my vision of data, my approach, and how I work to then potentially be reused — not reused for the sake of recycling, but adopted as techniques in client projects. Recently we worked with Google Arts & Culture for an interactive project about the plastic in the air, which I’m really excited about. I’ve worked with MoMA a bunch of times, which I think is really, really great. The Milan Triennale — we did a big data tapestry installation. And I’ve been working with clients such as IBM, The Gates Foundation, The New York Times, many startups, Google in different capacities, Verizon, fashion brand & Other Stories to design a collection. I think the beauty of our work is that every time you enter a completely different world, you learn.
On unexpected opportunities
I recently worked with George W Bush. He published a book about immigration and portraits of immigrants and I’ve been thinking about it. I mean, do I want to work and associate my name with, say, an ex-president that politically really doesn't represent what I would vote for? At the same time, it’s about understanding what working with this person can give to the world. I’m an immigrant myself, and the fact that I could have the platform to talk about immigrants in the United States and how much of the country is really made of immigrants — it really felt like a thing that I should do. It really depends on evaluating where you stand every time. It’s about being critical around the choices you make depending on where you’re standing in that moment and asking: 'what’s the opportunity?'
Feeling the profound impact that COVID was having on her beloved adopted city, Giorgia and her colleagues at Pentagram developed the online project titled 'Dear New York...' It asked New Yorkers to reflect on what they missed, and to ignite hope for what may lay head. Images courtesy Pentagram.
On current exciting projects
I'm working on an art commission for Moleskine, the notebook brand. It’ll be an actual physical notebook. I’m using the book of my life and stitching my whole life since 1981 with individual stitches for every day and things that happened, making this huge accordion thing; it’s a reflective project. We’re also about to launch a project with the University of Chicago in an interesting exhibition space in the center of Chicago. We designed an interactive experience for people to understand the topic of behavioral science. So that’s very cool. It’s a very analog data visualization, really tactile, with budget constraints. We made it interactive without tech, which is exciting. I’ve been selected as the first artist in residence for RAND Corporation to work with their data. Also my project on dating and data: I’m doing it as a book, collaborating with a friend of mine, journalist Annalisa Merelli from Quartz. It’s kind of a process and we’re taking our time, but we’ll be interviewing thousands of women from ages 35-45 about their dating experiences.
'Everybody needs to fuel themselves with things they’re truly curious and passionate about, and that needs to happen on a daily basis. It’s not about ‘I need to be creative now’. It’s an ongoing way of seeing the world, inquiring about situations and being curious about things.'
On seeing data everywhere
I think it can be a curse because then you start seeing everything like data. ‘Data’ are plural. I like to say data are as opposed to data is. So I think the data are beautiful. In every moment of my life when I'm dealing with someone new, something that is worrisome, something I want to explore, I approach with the lens of data as my way of journaling. A few personal examples: two and a half years ago I ended a ten-year long relationship. At 38 years old, after a relationship, when you’re at an age where a woman is supposed to have it all figured out — partners and kids — I started dating again in New York. It was a new experience for me and I started to collect data on it, really for me to understand my expectations. What was a ‘yes’ and what was a ‘no’? Why would I go on a second date or not? I know that this might feel really obsessive but it was just my way of journaling and keeping track of my experience. Then it developed into a project I’m working on in data and dating. I see data everywhere.
On how the pandemic changed New York
Pandemic New York is not the New York that we all like. If you really like the energy, the vibe and all the scenes that New York offers, a year in pandemic New York has been tough. Up until recently, I was not doing very well. I was missing the energy of New York. I’m a really extroverted person and I’d been living by myself and wouldn't see a person for two or three days. How did I cope? Not very well! Still, I was enthusiastic and motivated for my team, and some people have been thriving. Pre-pandemic, I loved being able to wander around after work with my boyfriend or friends, pick a bar and sit at a counter and talk with people. You can meet so many people in New York, without needing to be shy or worrying that you're bothering people. It’s a little different now because we’re all still a little scared of each other. But I think what I really, really liked before was if I had a meeting with someone at a new place, I would try to get there early and just sit.
Giorgia has a knack for turning data into engaging designs, from the exhibition design for Chicago interactive museum Mindworks (pictured, top), to Google Arts & Culture's Earth Day 2021 campaign 'Plastic in the Air' (pictured, middle), and infographics to accompany George W Bush's portraits in his book 'Out of Many, One' (pictured, bottom). Images courtesy Pentagram.
On New York's waterfront
I live in Bed Stuy now but I lived in Williamsburg for most of the time I’ve been in New York. I really like the south side of Williamsburg, which was not as hip as it is now. I love the waterfront, seeing the river and the city from Brooklyn. Seeing New York that way makes me feel way more in New York than actually being in the city. I’ve always tried to have a view even if it’s a tiny view. I think that has been my way to stay sane, to feel the water and be on the water. There’s something about that that to me really feels like ‘New York’. I like walking the bridges in New York when I really need to clear my head. I gravitate toward the water; it’s an element I do very well with.
'I’ve always tried to have a view even if it’s a tiny view. I think that has been my way to stay sane, to feel the water and be on the water. There’s something about that that to me really feels like ‘New York’.'
On favorite places to go in New York
Obviously wandering around galleries in Chelsea and on the Lower East Side, making it a weekend to just go to museums. The idea that you don’t need to plan anything: just wake up Saturday morning and you’ll figure out how to take a yoga class, and take a walk, and go to a museum and a restaurant. I think that the vibrancy and energy of having a lot of people around is what I like most. I lived close to the Williamsburg Bridge for such a long time, but I like to go to the Brooklyn Bridge when I have a chance. The MoMA and the Met and the Guggenheim: I love to go there. I used to go to BAM in downtown Brooklyn a lot to see dance performances and art.
On escaping the city
I’ve enjoyed the idea of getting a little closer to nature. I bought a car, which is something I never thought I’d do in New York. It’s a very used Volkswagen Golf, just to be able to travel. It saved me because on weekends I would figure out a way to go upstate, or to visit my boyfriend’s parents in Pennsylvania. That idea of getting out of New York more often is also something I’m considering. I miss traveling very much, so I would love to travel in the next year. We have seen we can work remotely, so I’m thinking about how to be primarily here but flexible. Geographically, breaking and changing landscapes completely helps me to recenter. You also recenter with what fuels you. A rebooting of the system is refreshing, especially if there’s nature and you’re not forced to be in front of a screen.
On New York being home
The pandemic has changed things a little. I see myself in New York for sure for my next chapter. If I had to pick another city, if not New York, I would consider London. I don’t think I would consider any other place in the States. I think, for English-speaking cities, London is a city I know pretty well. There’s something really culturally interesting, architecturally beautiful. It’s a city that has the same cultural vibe that New York has. I’ve been many times and I've always found it interesting. But the grey sky and rain most of the year... one of the things I love about New York is the blue sky and sun.
On a window or an aisle seat
A window seat. If I want to rest, I love curling up with my head against the plane wall. And obviously I like a view!
On New York in one word
As soon as you walk the streets of the city, you'll feel why.
Image courtesy Pentagram.