When I first discovered Pinterest about two years ago, my heart exploded and my mind was blown in the best possible way. One simple interface allows me to visually browse all of the beautiful stuff I find on the internet and beyond, and to organize it how I please. It feels friendly & welcoming—a place where I know I’ll find good things to look at and that I carefully put things I want to use later.
So you can probably imagine the heart-explodiness that’s rolling through my corner of the studio this evening, with the release of Place Pins, featuring a beautiful new map designed by none other than us! Place Pins let you map the things you love, near and far, making the pins more actionable and bringing out the explorer in all of us. You can view and create these Pins on your desktop or on mobile, when you’re actually out and about exploring. You can also collaborate with friends and family, using it to plan your next vacation or a tour of your favorite architecture.
Making a map fit for this kind of activity was a fun one. Pinterest loves color and texture and a feeling authenticity, all of which you might find in a paper map. Our house style, to the degree that we have one, tends to veer towards the bright and sparkly, and this design challenge was the perfect opportunity to break from our mold and try something new. Which we did, using rice paper texture, subtle color washes, and a mixture of unicode and hand-drawn fonts. We’ve also added some extra touches, like using OSM ids to introduce just a bit of entropy into the angle of all of the place labels to introduce some variety and get away from the hyper-precise default modern way that these things tend to settle towards. If you look carefully you'll notice that the spacing of the letters on street labels varies a bit from road to road. This is an intentional gesture towards making maps more human. The result is a map that (we hope) has a bit of soul and variety to it, not just another one-off, and is just asking for pins to be put all over it.
I’m also pleased to announce that for the first time we’ve shifted the backend infrastructure burden of one of our projects to that developed by our colleagues at Mapbox (you can read their take on all this here). The whole process of getting this thing online and polished was incredibly smooth and hassle-free, totally different from the wailing & gnashing of teeth that historically has accompanied the release of our worldwide maps. Honor is due to those guys for solving a hard problem and for making it possible for this kind of project to flow smoothly. I’ll follow up in a separate post about some of the finer details we included in the project and some ways that I think things could get even better.
All in all, we’re delighted to have been asked by Pinterest to participate in this project, and we hope the results are to your liking. Let us know what you think, and we hope you’ll share your maps with us and others. And happy Place Pinning!
Here's the city view of Amsterdam. At this particular zoom level, the small details of roads and buildings amplify the textures that are being used for land and water.
The Bay Area. At this zoom level, we start to see the emergence of parks, as well as major roads. These elements, along with the textured waterways, reveal many layers of detail that work together quite beautifully.
The street level view of Boston is shown below. Here we see a nice combination of road labels, buildings, parks and waterways.
At the country level, a large portion of Europe is captured in this image. The forests become visible, giving the landscape another layer of texture.
Karlsruhe, Germany. At this street view, we see several detailed components, such as parks and foot paths, rail lines and building density.
Hong Kong captures one of our main design goals with the Pinterest project. The "hand-crafted" look and feel is quite evident with the contrast of textures, especially where the water meets the land.
Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. Like the image of Amsterdam, this zoom level captures several detailed elements - roads, highways, waterways, buildings and parks.
"In September 2013, students in Webutuck High School art classes participated in a mapping workshop where they made maps of their lives--things they did, things they liked, things they didn't like, and things they'd like to see. They drew the maps on Field Papers, which were scanned, edited, and turned into geotiffs and markers. This is what they look like all together."
"Thanks to The Wassaic Project, Mr. Fitz at Webutuck High School, and Stamen for making Field Papers, seriously.
Maps and kids drawings FTW!
The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) has been doing incredible work in coordinating the mapping the parts of the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda. I encourage you donate to support their important work here. Our Field Papers project is seeing active use in this effort, with 256 atlases made in the Philippines as of this writing. You can contribute to the project starting here.
At Stamen we use OpenStreetMap data in most of the maps we make, including our Watercolor, Toner, and Terrain map tiles. OpenStreetMap is a rich and growing dataset that has been created and maintained by hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world, and at Stamen we wouldn't be able to do what we do without it.
But it can be hard to visualize the immense amount of work that goes into building and refining a complex dataset like OpenStreetMap. As part of my dissertation research at the University of British Columbia—research that feeds into the work I am doing here at Stamen—I have been looking at the historical OpenStreetMap data to see how the project has grown and evolved over time.
To this end, I created some visualizations of historical OSM data called OpenStreetMap: Every Line Ever, Every Point Ever
The first map, "Every Line Ever", starts from a simple premise: draw every version of every linear feature present in the OpenStreetMap historical data, even if those features have been subsequently deleted. Each line is drawn at 1% opacity, such that areas where multiple linear features are present or where multiple versions of a single feature exist, the lines drawn on the screen will accumulate to produce a darker and darker mark. The result produces a map that is strikingly familiar and readable: freeways appear more prominent than city streets, which are in turn darker and more visible than alleyways. However this hierarchy is not derived from any attributes associated with those features; rather, the hierarchy emerges naturally through the cumulative traces of OSM contributors modifying and refining the map. Inevitably, the features that are important to more people are edited more often, thereby becoming darker traces on this map. On further inspection, it is possible to see how the ghostly initial sketches of some features gradually coalesce into thicker, sharper lines as the collective effort of OSM volunteers settles around a consensus.
Here is the same approach, applied to London, England, where the OpenStreetMap project began:
The second map, "Every Point Ever", follows a similar approach, but using the point features from the OSM history database. In this case, every version of every point is drawn on the map at 1% opacity, but in this map the points are also scaled according to their version number. Thus, a point that has been edited a dozen or even a hundred times will be drawn again and again on the map, represented as an increasingly larger circle. Points that are continually modified in the OSM database will appear to "bleed" onto the page in this map. Where the first map evokes the spidery traces of pencil drawing, this map appears more like a collection of inkblots. Both maps use these metaphors of hand-drawn illustration to reveal the historical traces of effort that normally go unseen when looking at a finished map.
Be sure to try out the interactive version at http://graphspace.com/every-line-every-point which allows you to zoom in and see more detail.
I'm also delighted to say that this project won first place at UC Berkeley's map exhibit called "See-Through Maps: Maps that lay bare their point of view", which was part of the Mapping and its Discontents symposium hosted by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative. Please take some time to peruse the other maps in the exhibit; you'll find a wide range of innovative and beautiful maps, and I was proud to present Every Line Ever, Every Point Ever alongside them.
Most maps of sea level rise are underwhelming, visually. By focusing on the land that's shrinking as sea levels change, they give the impression that there's lots of land left over, even after the oceans change the shape of the coastline.
Climate Central's new Surging Seas project (available in New York and New Jersey to start) turns this issue around by placing the visual emphasis not on the land that's left over, but on the land that's lost as the ocean rises. Ten feet sounded like an unrealistically high number when we started the project, but Sandy's storm surge of 13 feet changed our minds pretty quickly.
New in this version is the introduction of two new datatypes, also emphasized according to the level of sea rise: population density and social vulnerability. So in this view of Manhattan and eastern New Jersey, you can see that the Lower East Side, as well as Jersey City, both have a high number of people who'll be affected by the change:
In sharp contrast to one another, though, the Lower East Side contains a high number of socially vulnerable people, whereas in Jersey City people are generally less unprotected (the yellow bits near the harbor):
Here's what the Rockaways look like as sea level rises in high- and low-population densities near the beach:
Beth and I were just in sunny Austin, Texas for another kind of South by Southwest: SxSW Eco 2013. It was a new crowd for me, which is always a blast. I saw some really interesting talks and projects, like the City as a Living Laboratory by New York artist Mary Miss, or the excellent SolarPump Charging Station from Sol Design Lab. Shepard Fairey gave good keynote too, with beautiful visuals, and a look back on his career and environment-related work.
Beth is also involved with Nerds for Nature, a Bay Area non-profit "bringing technologist and environmental professionals together to build awesome tools to understand, protect and revive the natural world," so she was also helping out at their booth in the conference exhibition hall. Nerds for Nature is awesome! Check them out if you are either a nerd, or like nature, or ideally, both.
I gave two talks while I was there, and we thought others might be interested to read them, so...
Making Data Visible was a "straight to the point" 15 minute pop to a room full of people who hadn't particularly heard of Stamen. I ran through 2 projects (Chesapeake Bay & Surging Seas), and then talked through a few suggestions to help people try to get started "making data visible" without necessarily hiring a group like us (although that would be nice!).
Designing with Data was a 45 minute lecture I gave to a room full of about Undergrads & Masters students at the Texas State University Communication Design School. Thank you to Jill Fantauzza for the invitation!
Thank you! Thank you very much! I'm here all week! Try the veal!
Big data is a big deal, for sure, but small data can be beautiful too. A work of art, even! We’ve been exploring these themes with Wong Doody Crandall Wiener in a new data viz piece in the lobby of Cedars Sinai Medical Center West Hollywood.
To house their most state-of-the-art research and outpatient care, Cedars Sinai built a new Advanced Health Care Science Pavilion. They envisioned an art piece that could speak to cutting-edge technology and, at the same time, be soothing for visitors and the people who work there. It needed to be both intriguing for the doctors and nurses who’d pass it every day, and accessible for the patients seeing it for the first time.
We loved the idea of using their data sets to depart from by-the-numbers visualization to create a work of data art. The video above gives you an idea of what you experience drifting over six large monitors across from a bank of ground-floor elevators.
The data set Cedars gave us tracked around 140 monthly metrics from different departments. Geraldine and Zach took that data and assigned each metric a line, with denser lines representing higher numbers. The circles and wave-like motion are designed to project a sense of calm without being too "institutional."
Based on feedback from Cedars Sinai, for the final piece it was narrowed down to just 12 data points per year, including: number of babies born, volunteer hours and pints of blood donated. Now we had a much smaller data set and these higher-concept numbers would be easier to digest while you're waiting to be whisked up to, say, the Heart Institute or headed to the cafe.
Then it came time to bring it into the real world, which is kind of new territory for us, since most of our work (when it's not turned into a tablecloth or napkins) lives on the Internet.
Zach spent a few days on-site ensuring that the final result would sing. First he had to get it to work, finding himself on that awkward battleground where the design studio Mac world confronts a real-world PC environment. There were a few skirmishes over HDMI cables and countless diplomatic missions to a nearby Apple store, but he found common ground and made it work. (OpenGL also helped.) He also did a bunch of walk-bys of the six monitors at different times of day leading to a few tweaks in speed and color to improve the overall flow.
"When I started the installation, people passing by would see me draped in cables and ask if I was making the world's biggest Xbox or something. Then when it was done, they would stop and say 'Dude, that's awesome!' You don't get that visceral reaction to online work so much—at least, not so you can hear it in person."
We put together some experimental visualizations earlier this year for quantified self device hot shots Jawbone, showing the behavior of several hundred TED attendees during this year's conference in Monterey. We worked with their data team to gather up the activity that each of the devices send back to the service, and after carefully combing through to make sure that we respected people's privacy, combined them into a single visualization that updated throughout the conference and represented the collective behavior of this self-selecting cohort.
One thing you can immediately pick out is that there are patterns in the behavior of people as they filter in and out of sessions; similar to the way traffic snarls move backwards along a freeway, but in reverse. People trickle in to the starts of talks over about a ten minute period, and you can see that quite clearly, and then stand up en masse as the talk ends and they filter out into the halls.
As usual, we started from the data instead of comps, and very quickly hit on the idea of a ring of people's days, organized by when they wake up. Red is awake, blue is asleep, and each ring is a day. The closer to the center you are, the earlier you wake up:
Looking at the edge of waking makes it clear that for lots of people, the passage from sleep to waking is far from linear—this is why lots of these lines turn from red to blue, and back again:
We broke the TED audience into a variety of cohorts: light sleepers, heavy walkers, 40+ and so on, and designed an interface to let attendees switch between them to get a better sense of their activity, both individually and collectively.
We've been working on designing a bike map for the City of Copenhagen, the number one bike capital of the world. Emil Tin, IT and Process Specialist from the City of Copenhagen, has been giving me frequent tours on our weekly Skype calls, going over every map feature that would be most helpful for navigating the city on a bike. Having only experienced biking in San Francisco, I quickly discovered that in Copenhagen, the biker's experience is quite the opposite. I learned that, in Copenhagen, cars and bikes coexist harmoniously, and that highlighting bike lanes is not as important as it would be in San Francisco. Cars are accustomed to bikes and while there are designated bike lanes and raised curbs, most roads are bikable in the city of Copenhagen. It really is bike heaven. It's irresistible to bike! I wish I could say the same for San Francisco.
My first task was a broad color exploration of color possibilities with the idea of highlighting a line. Below are two examples:
I also tried the highlight effect as a halo:
A few weeks later, we finally arrived at this color scheme. Clear, minimal and bright. The green and blue would fit perfectly as well, since we wanted to give prominence to green and water areas, two key features that Copenhagen bikers use in navigating around the city.
Knowing what to display and what not to display (or visually minimize) became rule #1 in creating a clear, concise and readable bike map. Below is an overview of key features on the map.
Bike Lanes and Tracks
I ended up using the halo highlight effect for bike lanes and tracks in yellow. This solution works particularly well for highlighting various road types, with road line-widths varying for each type. It's a clean and clear solution, by avoiding layering colors on top of one another, thereby avoiding the mixture of colors whenever adjusting the opacities of features. Below are the two types of bike lanes highlighted on the map:
- Street with a painted line
Tags: highway=primary, cycleway:left=lane, cycleway:right=lane
- Street with a raised curb
Tags: highway=primary, cycleway=track, cycleway:left=track, cycleway:right=track
- Purple - National Cycling Route
- Blue - Regional Cycling Route
- Green - Local Cycling Route
Read more about cycle routes
No Access Roads
Push Your Bike
Bike Obstructions or Difficult for Bikes
The gray dotted lines indicate cobblestone streets.
Bike barriers are indicated by 2 diagonal lines. Especially important for cargo bikes.
BIKE RAMPS ON STEPS
Steps are in orange. Blue indicates that a bike ramp is available.
Our goal here was to indicate one-way streets for bikes only. For this we followed the same logic IBikeCPH uses in their routing code. Read more about one-way here.
Thin gray lines indicate footpaths. Dashed lines show you paths where you must push your bike.
Check out the full map online at http://www.ibikecph.dk
We have a billboard!
Hear this: the billboard space at 14th and Valencia shall forever henceforth be known as Stamen Watercolor Billboard. Working with an anonymous benefactor, we generated what I think is the largest of our maps so far: 25 by 12 feet, big enough for our whole team to cavort along. It's right down the street from HQ in the sunny Mission, which means it will probably last a day at most without being tagged or otherwise messed with, but for now it's hopefully making the neighborhood we love and work in a little snazzier. Congrats to Geraldine and Zach for making work that can beautify a city street!
Over the summer, Stamen was joined by Zoe Padgett, an intern studying a Masters of Fine Arts in Media Design Practices from the Art Center College of Design. We were delighted to have her join us, and all tickled by the work you see below.
My first week at Stamen, Art Director George Oates gave me a seemingly simple assignment. “I want you to visualize Stamen,” she said. Initially I was delighted. That’s why I begged to intern here in the first place---because of the exciting and beautiful data visualizations I saw this company produced. I wanted to be a part of it. I thought this was my first step onto the pitch.
At first, I felt shy and unsure. The only thing I was absolutely sure of was that Stamen loved plants. Plant visualizations? Somewhat cliché for a company named after a flower’s penis. I walked timidly through the office. There seemed to be some rooms dedicated to relaxation. In others, you could almost feel the python syntax being pumped into hard drives. Intense. I headed for the kitchen. Upon examination, it appeared Stamen loved chocolate; kettle chips and had a sizable liquor collection. Ok, well there’s an idea. What else, I thought. I went onto stamen.com. I read all of the employee bios. I read the company description and past and present client lists. I took notes, did sketches, and ultimately produced my first round of “Visualizing Stamen” pieces.
I presented these nervously in front of the office. The response was polite and encouraging. But, I felt somewhat silly. Out in the coding zone, the developers were producing interactive pieces about the degradation of the Chesapeake Bay. Here I was trying to tell them how much chocolate they eat. George suggested interviewing each member of the staff. I drafted up a form I titled “The Stamen Insight Questionnaire” and sent it around the office. The form asked about people’s birthplaces, current living situation, transport use and education. I think George thought I was trying to steal everyone’s identity, as she politely declined to tell me where she lives. The response to the form was less than enthusiastic, but after about three weeks I was able to get everyone to fill it out. It was an exciting new data set and it allowed me to dig a little deeper.
At this point, I had started to understand the staff and the company a bit more in depth. As I grew to know the employees better, many things started to become apparent about the company. Stamen is an incredibly respected company,and it has delighted minds across the world. It is a company that started doing data visualization before anyone had even uttered the word “infographic” (a word I would later understand as blasphemous in this office). The company takes care of its employees generously and treats them with respect. It was also clear that the company was in a bit of flux. Close to half the staff had been hired within the last year and we were in transition between managers. The elder Stamens were few and far between. Are we ushering in a new era of Stamen? I had to delve deeper to find out.
Stamen is a maverick company and is jam packed with the most talented, funny, and insightful people. Its essence lies in its tagline: “The next most obvious thing.” As I leave Stamen, I know my legacy will be a indeterminate blip in the history of a truly great company. But, I can’t help but ask a question back: Stamen, what's the next most obvious thing?
Best of luck, Zoe!