Our process involves climate topics research, data analysis and data mapping, DataWagashi design, digital and physical prototyping, experience design and public engagement.
The creation of every DataWagashi set begins with data research and analysis to identify critical topics and extract meaningful insights, which then informs the data story design.
A deep dive into material and ingredients palettes ensures the choices aligns with the intended data representation and enables edibility of the pieces.
This then transitions into data mapping and algorithmic prototyping, where data is harmoniously matched to tangible attributes using our bespoke algorithm for computational 3D designs.
Physical prototyping breathes life into these designs, making them tangible and iteratively improving the texture and consistency of the sets. This journey culminates in experience design, where the user's sensory interaction is curated.
Finally, public engagement including events, talks, design thinking and making workshops and exhibitions are sought to validate, refine, and share the delectable data stories with the world.
For us, wagashi is a fusion of cultural richness and practical versatility. Culturally, wagashi is considered as a microcosm of time, space and nature, capturing the fleeting beauty of the seasons and the world around us. This art of the five senses serves as a profound medium to encapsulate intangible information about various facets of the world. Traditionally tied to tea ceremonies – wagashi represents a form of cultural ritual and gatherings, and has been enjoyed widely as a cherished gift item. Leveraging these cultural nuances, DataWagashi naturally fosters the sharing of data amongst people, making knowledge edible, delightful and memorable.
In practice, the adaptable form factors of various types of wagashi make it an ideal 3D canvas for design, with its minimalist size and shape acting as a blank slate. Agar, one of the main base ingredients, is prevalent in both pastry creation and bio-lab applications. By being vegan, it ensures an environmentally conscious and inclusive approach, appealing to a wider audience.
Data mapping, accuracy, subjectivity, and misrepresentation are inherently interlinked concepts in this work. Take, for example, associating a coffee flavor with carbon footprint data – why not tea or a different flavor? The reality is that mapping data to flavors or textures is inherently subjective. Similar to how data visualization makes color choices based on common but not universal color psychology, taste or texture mapping depends on common perception and psychology. This approach is typically more nuanced than standard color or shape associations in data visualization. Even if there was a universally accepted taste mapping, individual sensory differences mean perception will never be entirely objective. In our work, we embrace the inherent subjectivity of taste, texture, smell and so on as an essential aspect of multisensory data communication, rather than a challenge to overcome.
We want DataWagashi to provide everyone a tangible way to feel and understand important data insights in areas such as climate and environment, health and wellbeing, science and education and so on, and not let the stern visual graphs shut people out. It is an opportunity for us to rethink the tools we have for describing critical issues the world now faces and reframe it in a way that stimulates more interest and care instead of anxiety and fatigue brought by boring data preaching. We believe DataWagashi might be one step forward towards a more interesting, accessible and inclusive way of communicating such information.