Jinwen Xian






  • Jinwen Xian is a designer and artist based in London and Shanghai, currently studying at Royal College of Art. 


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Weight of Data

Oct 2018 - Dec 2018
Interactive Design / Participatory Art


This project explores the pixel as a metaphor for data in the contemporary visual context, trying to identify the cultural and social weight carried by the pixels. And provided an ‘online tester’ that allowed the user to upload an image and take away some squares from the original one and use them to convert to a new image. People are invited to participate in the process of exploring data loss.

“Although being seperated from the original pictures, these randomly chosen blocks of images still indicates the trend, the texture and the form of their 'mothers'. Different from single pixels, these peeled off blocks provided much more evidence about the original data, even when they're blurred or restricted.”

Online Tester: http://weightofdataprototype.com/

Here's the pictures created by the users who actually visited the web page and used the prototype.


I tried to research the weight of data from both the internet culture and the contemporary visual context. This topic was chosen because it is now the information age. All the cultures and subcultures that we have today are inseparable from the spread of the Internet. There are even some cultures born on the Internet. It can be said that the internet culture is just culture. The data itself has no physical weight (strictly speaking, the physical weight of the data is the weight of the electron, so it can be ignored), but the behavior caused by people according to the Internet will lead to a series of effects. Such as online dating, online entertainment, artificial intelligence and the impact of big data on the economy. At this time, the data is given weights other than physical weight, such as emotional and social values.

I decided to start with the data carried by the image. Because according to previous surveys, people think that pictures (visualized things) are more important than words, and the emotions they carry are heavier.

When it comes to pictures, it is necessary to mention the medium, paper and display that carry the pictures. Now the quality of the printer is getting better and better, and the resolution of the electronic screen is getting higher and higher. We are unconsciously surrounded by high-definition pictures, which seems to be the most reasonable. On the other hand, one of the important features of the Internet is its dissemination and reproduction. In the process of a large number of pictures being transmitted, some data is lost; and in order to facilitate fast transmission, people choose to actively discard some data that does not seem to be important in the picture (a large number of similarly repeated colour values), and only retain important data. (edge and boundary). The scientific name of this process is called lossy compression. We can feel the weight of the data by revisiting the lost data by understanding the compression caused during image propagation.

Compression is a very common online action. It is everywhere, happening all the time. Most people don't realize the existence of compression (if you are not an expert about computers), designers are familiar with image compression, but they don't necessarily know what happened during the process of compression, how much data is lost, and what is missing. Is there any other thing that people feel accustomed to it but never thought about where it came from? Coca-cola. Both you and the president know that Coca-Cola is good to drink. It has nothing to do with status and wealth. It is equal.

So how do you visualize the process of data losing? We can introduce the concept of 'pixel' here. A pixel is the smallest unit that carries data (colour information) in a picture. Each picture contains a certain amount of pixels. Generally speaking, the more pixels, the better the quality of the picture and the larger the memory.

And how would you represent the cultural or psychological weight of a single pixel? I choose to use a series of the visual language of Coca-cola and glitch art to present the cultural weight of the pixel. The pixels themselves are just small squares, but the things that these pixels make can represent a lot. Cola can represent popular culture, and glitch art can represent the Internet culture. Some glitch effects came up in the process of losing pixels. These are the evidence of losing weight of data, and they are beautiful.

Focusing on coca cola and investigate the cultural significance of pixel bearing.

The other way round
What missed data can do

Lost or not

Camile Henrot presented the chaos of the universe through digital means in her work Grosse Fatigue. Alternatively, this might be inspired me to think the era we are living in, which is more likely a post-digital age. At the time of digital age, people were obsessed with this new technologies. But soon, they characterized by greater familiarity with media and digital technologies. The following question needs to be discussed becomes how to use new technology to help people live better. As same as the postmodernism, as long as it is the post-something era, it always be people-oriented. Coca-cola in the post-digital age. The mundane thing in the mundane era. Fair enough.


Also I looked at 'lossy compression' from a new perspective.

I was thinking how to show the process of compression visually four almost two weeks and came up nothing. So I decided to look back to the idea of taking away pixel. And think this question from another perspective.

The purpose of compression is to transfer faster and save storage space. so even if some data lost, people still recognise the picture, just as same as throwing away pixel. What if we throw away more and larger pixels?

When the image is saved in jpg format, it is actually in the process of compression and people don't realize what does it mean to lost these data (actually it doesn't matter). I use a kind of extreme method to tell people what the missing data can be. They can be used to make a new picture. It's like 99+1=101.

You still know she is Mona Lisa.

Use this online tester to define how important the data lost on the original image, and how these data can be used to make up the new image.


After the user test, I improved my prototype. I thought it is a simple website and people can understand it without reading instructions. But I was wrong. I asked ten people to use it and only for of them did it. So I wrote some captions at the beginning of the page to make sure it’s easy to understand and use. Another issue I found is about my coding. When the user select blocks from the picture, sometime they are beyond the scope of the picture. When this happens, the number on the navigation bar will turn red. It is a signal that asks users to reselect this parameter.

It is hard to define this project as pure design project nor artwork since it didn’t have a clear target user community. Someone treats it as an online game that they would love to share it with their friends. Some people think it‘s more like an experimental tool which can explore the importance of different parts of the different pictures. I personally define it as a participatory project that people can develop their own thinking and a new relationship can be created through the process of playing it together.

By doing this project, I found that we overlooked too many things in our lives and maybe it is time to pay attention to them and start to rethink their meanings.

Please feel free to use this online tester and send me back the image you’ve created!