At long last, a data mural visual design workshop!

As I’d hoped, the visual design workshop that we ran on Thursday night with the Somerville Food Security Coalition was exciting.  Everyone seemed a lot more relaxed and engaged than they had at the first session.  I have a couple of theories about why that might have been:

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  1. There was a huge pile of fun stuff on the tables when they came in (legos, pipe cleaners, pom-poms etc.)
  2. Everyone had to tell us about their favorite muppet as they introduced themselves
  3. Most of the group had already worked together once at the first session
  4. Drawing, though scary, isn’t as scary as data
  5. We had really good healthy (Shape up Somerville approved!) food from Maya Sol

First we played with toys to make a representation of some of the data that generated the ”story” that the group wanted to tell through a mural.  They came up with some really creative ideas.

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Then we did a couple of activities that I learned from a wonderful local community muralist named Tova Speter.  We took each of the words from the story that would be most difficult to visualize and developed a quick “word web”, or a network of words and ideas that grew from the first word.

We then did a collaborative drawing exercise that let the whole group develop a series of different drawings that told the story of food security in the city in different ways.

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We looked together at the drawings and identified elements that we liked, and began to put some of them together into a design for a mural.

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Nothing’s ever as simple as it sounds after the fact, and this process was no different.  While the collaborative drawing had given us lots of good ideas, the group had to do a lot of reflection about who the target audience should be for the mural and how best to frame (and locate) a message for that audience, how to ensure that the final image doesn’t stigmatize people who are in need of services, how to avoid common unintentional clichés like “up” being better than “down” and what the criteria are for choosing a wall.

While we still have a lot of work ahead of us (to refine the image, choose specific statistics and quotes to include, get feedback from the rest of the coalition, find a wall to paint, and paint) we’ve already improved significantly on the pre-pilot data mural that we did over the summer with Doctors for Global Health.  This time the data that inspired the mural will be present in the final product.

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