Obscured Data

A briefly anti-Tuftean data visualization project
Writeup by Livvy


In the summer of 2019, I found myself obsessively encoding secret messages in illustrative ciphers. I knew I was interested in data visualization and information design, so I indulged this briefly anti-Tufteian hobby as a way of practicing different ways of representing information: instead of making data as clear and discoverable as possible, I hid it in things.

Obscured Data Sketches

Some of many sketches.

Dozens of cipher ideas and sketches lived in notebooks and on post-its until I forced myself to make some finished, solvable pieces. I made an Instagram account to house them:


See Instagram for the full collection (so far), but here are some examples:

Obscured Data Dots

A message hidden in dots. (This was based on the first cipher I drew.)

Obscured Data Plants

A message hidden in plants.

Halloween at Home Show

I was invited to participate in a friend’s Halloween-centered house show. I finalized three on-theme ciphers and displayed them there (with treats for any solvers).

I also gave a brief presentation about my cipher obsession and how I ended up here. I credit three factors:

  1. In ~4th grade, I memorized the numeric position of every letter in the alphabet as part of a self-made matchmaking formula to figure out who my true love was.
  2. I was introduced to Giorgia Lupi’s and Stefanie Posavec’s Dear Data, which helped me see that data can be visualized in ways far beyond the charts and infographics I’ve grown accustomed to (and bored of). Their work was hand done, highly illustrative, and looked like art.
  3. A friend handed me a base-3, A1Z26 substitution cipher.

If letters can be represented as numbers, and numbers can be represented in all sorts of highly illustrative and abstract-looking ways, this opens up a world of possibilities for hiding data in art!

Obscured Data Presentation

See the full presentation at https://vimeo.com/385898992. (Shot on a phone by a friend.)

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