Data Crafting: Exploring Data through Craft and Play

Nathalie Vladis Harvard Medical School

Aspen Hopkins MIT CSAIL

Arvind Satyanarayan MIT CSAIL

IEEE VIS Workshop on Data Vis Activities to Facilitate Learning, Reflecting, Discussing, and Designing, 2020

Example of productions. (a) Boston Weather with Pipe Cleaners by Gaurav P; (b) Ten Hours in Boston by Yue D; (c) Screen Time by Weather by Artemisia L; (d) Highs and Lows by Serena B.


In this full-day workshop, we introduced participants to novel, multi-sensory ways of exploring and visualizing their data through Data Crafting. Data Crafting—in which crafting by hand promotes and produces data communication–facilitates creativity through play; by emphasizing crafting, we sought to make data approachable and to build a space where experts can explore new facets of their data. Our participants thoroughly enjoyed being exposed to this new approach and shared that they were likely to apply what they learned to communicate their research, gain new perspectives on data, and build data literacy at home and in classrooms. Here, we provide instructions on how to recreate this workshop as well as strategies for adapting it to larger audiences and/or shorter sessions. Data Crafting activities can be applied across many domains and in many contexts, as shown by the diverse backgrounds of our participants. From graduate students and post-doctoral researchers to first year business undergraduates and journalist fellows, all participants benefited from attending.