Data-driven Generative Art

Combining data-driven design and generative art is not immediately obvious.

Data-driven design means using real data to inform decisions. Community Gardens began as a survey of students at NC State. The data is now used to generate plants.

The data is very rich. Details range from numeric (age, number of years in school, degree obtained, how many hours a week they work) to behavioral (how the student pays for tuition, are they out of state, are they First Generation) to experiential (did they sleep outside, did they skip meals). There are many ways to affect the plant's appearance.


The most important data to derive is the overall health factor of the plant. This is derived by the formula

Resources Incoming - Energy Outgoing + Community Support - Emotional Health = Health

For example, if a student has their tuition paid for, they have a high Resources Incoming score. If a student is working 40 hours/week, they have a high Energy Outgoing Score. High Community Support scorers are having some of their needs met by programs like the NC State Food Pantry or the emergency fund. Students who reported high levels of anxiety have low emotional health. Each of these categories is an aggregate of between 3 and 10 responses from the survey.

Plant Metaphors

Once we have found meaning within each student's data, associating visual characteristics is the next step. The complete list is as follows:


The Degree the student is pursing determines the plant height: taller plants are more senior degrees. The plant on the right is pursuing their Master's.


The age of the student determines how many leaves or petals are on the plant. The plant on the left is 18, the middle 32, and the one on the right is 44.

High Incoming Resources

Students who have high incoming resources, such as grants or an employer who pays for their tuition, have thicker stems.


Energy Outgoing

Students who have high Energy Outgoing scores have berries displaced from the stem. These students are working 30+ hours per week, have children, are searching for a job, or are pursuing their Masters or Doctoral degrees.


First Generation

First Generation students have mazes on their leaves. They have an extra layer of challenges to navigate, often without guides or support.


Housing Insecurity

Students who have experienced Housing Insecurity are affected by the wind. Wind displaces leaves from the stem; the further the displacement the more severe the insecurity. These students care so much about their education that they are willing to sleep outside or in inhabitable spaces.


Food Insecurity

Students who experience Food Insecurity have berries drawn as wireframes. Their berries are hollow. Some of these students do not eat for an entire day.


High GPA

Students with a high GPA are drawn with stars on their leaves.



Students who indicate high anxiety are drawn with angular lines in their stems.

Out of State

Students who come from out of state have leaves with topographical maps drawn on them.

High Support

Students with a high health score are drawn with warm colors and grouped in the Summer Garden.


Low Support

Students with a lower health score drawn with cooler colors and grouped in the Winter Garden.


Aggregate Data

As viewers learn how to 'read' the attributes of the plants, connections are made. For instance, the Garden of Housing Insecurity has many mazes on the leaves. This is because there is a disproportionate number of First Generation students who experience Housing Insecurity.

Generating Art

Each plant is a mathematical equation that outputs a 3D model. Depending on the data fed to the plant, the output changes accordingly. Creating groups of plants based on similar characteristics results in gardens that reveal meaning within the data.

Community Gardens
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This project was funded by the
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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