A colorful attempt to translate and visualize data into a more friendly and understandable process.
In the “Cupcakes Index”, I baked the dataset of the Happiness Index into variations of sugar for tiny cupcakes (one cupcake per country) and then had my tasters map their perception of the sweetness on a chart. Thus the saddest country was the most bitter, the happiest, the sweetest. Cupcakes Index was my final project for Data Representation, taught by Jer Thorp.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
My inspiration for the Cupcakes Index began when I read an article in The Economist about the World Happiness Report, published by the Earth Institute for the United Nations Conference on Happiness, edited by Jeffrey Sachs, Richard Layard and John Helliwell. The 100p. report covered methodology for measuring happiness, case studies, as well as a few graphs on how happy countries are, hoping to stimulate governments to consider using happiness as a metric for public policy. I was interested in how the report measured something that can seem so subjective and converted it into data. In fact, the scientific term for happiness is “subjective well being.” I considered the graph of the Happy Index because the report says that it was the best judge of a country’s happiness— it asks the question, ”Overall, how happy are you these days?” I also was struck by the report’s description of the difficulty of gathering an overall feeling and significant data set and yet struggling against the ephemeral, momentary spikes of happiness or sadness in daily life.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
As a political science concentrator in college, I often found such reports to be dry and more difficult to experience and delve into than they should be. I hoped to visualize the data around the report but also give light into the difficulty of collecting and presenting such data - while noticing the bias everywhere - not just in the experience of data but also in the collection of data itself. I used colored cupcake wrappers— dark blue for the least happy countries, then, in increasing happiness, brown, yellow, pink and bright red for the most happy. I then asked the people who ate the cupcakes to plot how sweet they found the cupcake by pinning the wrapper onto a board. They considered their own subjective measure of sweetness— ideally tasting a few cupcakes so that they had some sort of point of reference. They were able to check how closely their plotting matched the formal graph of the Happy Index (a video feed of the pinboard was projected on the formal graph). For the ITP Spring Show, I baked 5 rounds of the Cupcakes Index! I collected all of the boards, with their pinned wrappers, and have attached an image of all of these boards.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
I baked several rounds of cupcakes leading up to the cupcakes I baked for the ITP Spring show. I wanted to taste test the variety of sweetnesses and sours and see how the food could truly represent the data. It was interesting to see how the sweeter cupcakes melted more deeply in the middle while the more bitter cupcakes were shaped as plumply as one might expect.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
My project demonstrated a new way of representing data through taste and participatory reactions (the pinboards of cupcake wrappers). I decided to use the subjective measure of taste - and tasting sugar specifically - in order to encourage my participants to engage with these ideas at once. I considered how to represent data (1) in the clearest way and (2) in a way that speaks to the nature of that data set. I wanted to make the data tangible, palatable, spark interest in the dry report. So, I set about baking the Happy Index into cupcakes. 96 of them, where each country had its own, unique amount of sugar, starting with Bulgaria, who had the least amount of happiness and the least amount of sugar.6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
My project brought data about one hundred countries in the world into one hundred cupcakes - as participants ate each cupcake they chose to eat, they thought about the supposed happiness level of the country that they tasted. They also compared a variety of countries and then after seeing the formal graph of the World Happiness Report, they became more interested in the reporting and curious about the index.span class="question">7. Does your project have nutritional elements? If so, are these elements available and affordable on a global or local level?