Breaking: Caffeine Data Lies! ︎︎︎


infographic          poster          data          design research          human-centered design          


All students know this scene. You’re running late for class. You run haphazardly around the room gathering and packing your school things into your backpack, stopping by the kitchen table periodically to sip from the mug of coffee sitting atop an assortment of newspapers and other class handouts. On your way out the door, you spot today’s homework within the stack and yank it out. Thunk. Coffee flows across the table and trickles onto the floor, and in an instant you’re even more late and more stressed than before.

But, did that coffee become the antagonist of this story when it spilled all over your belongings, or long before? 

Could caffeine intake be the source of high stress levels in students? 
This data collection and analysis project investigates this question. One design student set out to discover how different conditions affected her stress level throughout the day. She recorded a series of data variables every hour of the day for a period of 19 days, including stress level, location, activity, audio stimulus, and whether or not she was caffeinated. 

The Connections between Caffeine and Stress
There were three correlations found in the data between the student’s caffeine intake and recorded stress levels. The first is that recorded high-stress levels followed caffeine 100% of the time, while medium-stress levels were recorded after caffeine roughly 80% of the time and low-stress levels 68%. This suggests that higher stress occurs after consuming caffeine.

The graph below visualizes the second correlation, which aligns with the first correlation in that it demonstrates a trend in higher stress levels recorded in the hours following caffeine intake. The dark brown shape represents how many times throughout the 19-day duration the student consumed caffeine at each hour of the day. The light brown shape with the red outline then indicates the average stress level recorded at each hour of the day. The graph shows that caffeine was typically consumed in the earlier hours of the day and that higher stress levels were generally recorded in the hours after caffeine had been consumed.

The third visualization uses 19 coffee droplets to represent each of the 19 days that data was recorded. The size of each coffee droplet represents the average stress level recorded for its respective day, with a larger size depicting higher stress levels and vice versa. The days in which caffeine was consumed are indicated with a red outline around the coffee droplet. This demonstrates the third correlation found, which is that days with the highest average stress levels always corresponded to caffeine consumption while the days with the lowest average stress levels were caffeine-free.

The Conclusion...?
The three correlations found in the data between caffeine consumption and stress levels indicate that caffeine does promote higher levels of stress. Higher stress levels always followed caffeine consumption, the times of day with the highest recorded stress levels, and days with higher average stress always corresponded with caffeine while days with lower average stress were devoid of caffeine. Done! Problem solved, right?

So, “Could caffeine intake be the source of high stress levels in students?”

...Or,  is it more complicated than that?

This argument seems straightforward enough, and it might even be somewhat true for this student, but there are many human-centered problems with coming to this conclusion. First, the data only represents one student’s experience throughout a very small time period, but it is generalized and applied to all design students. The argument would have been more sound if it came from a larger data set representing different extremes of design students’ lifestyles. Speaking of extremes, the persona which accompanies this student’s data shows that the student struggles with anxiety, meaning that there could be factors which contribute to the recorded stress levels which do not apply to students who don’t fit this extreme. Even in the data that was recorded, there were other environmental factors which were not considered in the argument including the background audio, the activity, the location, the amount of sleep the night before, and even the day of the week and time of the day. Each of these variables could have an impact on the student’s stress level, but they were not taken into account when patterns were found between stress and caffeine. So, this hasty argument that caffeine leads to higher stress levels is just incomplete.

The poster layout resembles a traditional newspaper with a Breaking News headline to mock the way data is presented to the public as irrefutable evidence to an argument, and how the public is so quick to accept this “news”. The data is visualized with coffee spill themed graphics to further the connection between stress and caffeine visually.