Mapping Life in 2020

 A zine that documented my world during 2020. 

The Problem

How can personal data be used to construct a map that shows life before and after 2020?

Background

In the final project for Visual Culture & Design graduate course, students were tasked to use data of their choice to create visual maps of their lives in 2020. 

My life from 2019 to 2020 changed drastically. The whole world halted as COVID 19 plagued us all. At the same time, I moved back to the United States after living in Taiwan for nearly two years. Not just in the USA, but in Texas, to live with my partner and his family. As my grandma always says, “when it rains, it pours.”

Objective

The final project assignment was to create a map that accomplishes the following:

  1. Research inspires and informs visual design work
  2. Collect and curate data specific to my life
  3. Develop a model for the expression of data document your process as a product

Project Duration

April – May 2021

Tools

  • Illustrator
  • InDesign
  • Film photography
  • Gouache & Watercolors

Findings & Solutions

To illustrate the enormous changes yet subtle similarities of my life from 2019 to 2020, I created a zine. The goal of this format is to highlight the poetic categories in my life such as: illustration  inspirations, hairstyles, and colors in  photography. Life is big and messy, and two maps weren’t enough space to tell this story. Instead, I made 32 pages. 

The data used to create and interpret these categories are highly personal. They are journaling entries, drawings, photographs, doodles, and thoughts I never thought I’d share. Please tread lightly.

What I did

What I learned

In this project, I really learned how to trust my instincts. At first, I shied away from a subject because the scope felt too large. However, it was the right direction and I surprised myself by creating a tangible book.

I also learned how to print a zine at home and hand-stitch it! It was such a wonderful experience to create a physical project after a year of remote work.

Design & Iteration

Research

To begin the project, I listed events that significantly impacted me from 2019 to 2020. Below are my initial thoughts:

  1. I lived in Taiwan in 2019 and moved back to the USA in 2020
  2. The differences in my emotions, fears, and hopes between 2019 & 2020 given my international move and global pandemic. 
  3. Apartment living in Taipei (2019) vs House in Texas (2020)
    1. Living alone vs living with partner’s family

Simultaneously, I researched maps and compiled a list of resources that inspired me, seemed flexible, and told a great story.

Categories & Scale

After my initial brainstorm and map research, I complied lists of potential categories & data points to fine-tune my decision. The scope is integral to deciding how deep to probe into a question. Further, I need to confirm I had the data available to support an idea and its scope.

Taiwan(Apartment) vs USA (House)

  1. Large map w/zoomed in sections
  2. Potential to read left to right as if it’s a story

Inside my brain

Turn my brain into a journey map where I experience the range of emotions. Somehow illustrate time spent in each emotion?

Potential Categories

  1. Photographs
  2. Illustrations/sketches/doodles 
  3. Bullet Journal – time/hours spent on an activity

Critique

I presented my initial research to my class to get their feedback. Most of them reacted positively to my life in Taiwan and had many follow-up questions. While we all struggled mentally and emotionally with COVID-19, they felt an internal map of my emotions wasn’t the strongest direction. Therefore, I took their feedback to heart and pursued creating a map that showed the differences between my life in Taiwan & Texas.

Draft 1: Taiwan Bike Trip vs Texas Driving

Since the scope is a major factor in showing my life between two countries on the other side of the world, I limited the stories to one specific detail: transportation.

While living in Taiwan, I rode my bike around the island for 14 days. I spent so much time outside in Taiwan as my primary mode of transportation was walking & biking. Juxtaposed to my life in the USA where I only rode a bike for fun and primarily traveled by car. The initial map highlighted the following:

– Emphasis on differences in transportation.

– Differences in the scenery

Taiwan

The left-hand side is a map of my 14-bike trip around the island of Taiwan. I included sketchbook illustrations and film photographs on top of a Google Maps image of the island.

The goal was to show my personal experience in each location.

Texas

The right-hand side is a map of Texas with a zoomed-in view of North Richland Hills, which is the city I lived in during 2020. Using my Google Maps data, I included locations I traveled to during the pandemic and corresponding phone photos.

Feedback/Guiding Questions

During office hours with my professor, he suggested I consider the following, given the differences in Taiwan and Texas are so vast which makes this such an interesting subject:

  1. Size – consider other ways to emphasize size
  2. Tell story with parrallel imagery – sketches in Texas vs Taiwan, film photography in Texas vs Taiwan, etc.
  3. Iterate through ideas that play with scale
  4. Consider alternative forms for final project: zine, video, or book
  5. What emotion do you want to portray?

Thanks to that meeting I walked away with two solid ideas for my next step: create a zine & compare/contrast Taiwan & Texas in a variety of ways, not just transportation

Draft 2: Zine Comparing Taiwan & Texas

I believed the zine format would work perfectly for my map as it’s a compare/contrast theme. The two pages of a book allows readers to quickly see the similarities and differences while the book is open. Further, I have many stories and experiences to share that one digital map couldn’t do it justice.

This second revision highlighted the following:

– Emphasis on differences in experiences

– Emphasis on transportation 

– Critical consideration: how can categories/data be used to represent emotional elements of my life. Can I push the categories to be more thoughtful and unexpected?

Below are initial sketches and organization of how to compare/contrast the two places.

Draft 3: Printed Zine (?)

With a printed Zine in mind, I took to InDesign to begin building the paper product. The goal of the zine is to highlight the similarities and differences in Taiwan & Texas, therefore, I assigned Taiwan the “left” side as it’s the past and Texas the “right side” as it was my present.

While designing the zine I asked myself the following questions to build upon my goal:

  1.  Can I print this zine to have a physical memory?
  2. Expand story beyond one bike trip; how does my data tell a story?
  3. What are the similarities even though I was on opposite sides of the Earth?

Draft 4: Printed Zine (!)

The phrase “poetic categories” did not stop bouncing around in my head once I heard it. It was the most singularly inspirational sentence that projected my zine to the next level. Before, I was concerned with finding hard data – Google map points, time, calories, etc. Now, I considered categories of life that aren’t necessarily quantitative but evoked the innate and beautiful parts of life that you can’t put your thumb on. I immediately considered new categories:

  1. Color
  2. Hair
  3. Emotions
  4. Joy
  5. Doodle frequency

Final Critique

In my final presentation of the semester, I was nervous to see what my classmates thought of the “poetic categories.” I was concerned that it didn’t make sense, did not bolster the story, and was too random. To my surprise, my classmates really enjoyed the new additions and had such great comments!

“Using the color’s name to show color in the place so neat. I want to see more of that!”

“This is so endearing! <3”

“The categories are just great. Nothing shows the difference in time than hair, an awesome idea!”

Feeling confident about my design decisions, I continued onward and built upon the foundation.

Final Product: Printed Zine