Typical air pollution charts tend to seem a little abstract. These necklaces are designed to make the data more visceral. Each bead represents levels of smog. The spiky parts, representing the worst pollution, prick you if you touch them.
Each necklace maps out a week of pollution levels in the post-industrial city of Sheffield, England. Smaller, smoother, greener beads show periods of cleaner air. The larger, jagged, red beads represent the times that it was least safe to breathe.
“We wanted to create pieces that highlighted the normally invisible burden of air pollution on the body by creating wearable versions of this data directly on the part of the body they impact most,” says designer Stefanie Posavec, who worked on the project with researcher Miriam Quick.
“The necklaces visualize large particulate matter, which can cause damage to the heart and lungs, so it made sense to place the visualization over this part of the body,” she says.
The project, called Air Transformed, was commissioned by Better With Data, a local wing of the Open Data Institute, which wanted to help give people different ways to learn about air pollution. The smog in the city used to be worse: When the city was a center of the steel industry, the skies often looked like Beijing does today. But even if the haze isn’t always as obvious now, pollution still often reaches unsafe levels.
The designers also made sunglasses that make pollution more visible; a pair of the glasses has three lenses, each etched with a pattern representing the levels of a different type of pollutant. Looking through the glasses representing the dirtiest day, it’s almost impossible to see.
Both the necklaces and sunglasses were designed to help make the stats on smog more interesting.
“Our task was to create friendly, accessible pieces that used open air quality data to inspire public engagement with the issue of air pollution,” says Posavec. “So we wanted to make something that would make air quality data more memorable, impactful, and engaging than a chart in a book in the hopes that it would appeal to people who might not be interested in data, or even interested in air pollution.”
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