Stamen is a design and technology studio in San Francisco.

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Nov 30, 2011

VPRO: Custom Cartography and The Netherlands From Above

Working closely with Dutch broadcasting heavies VPRO, yesterday we launched Nederland van Boven ("Netherlands from Above"), an interactive map of the Netherlands to accompany the forthcoming broadcast of a series of shows about this fascinating tiny country. As my friend Ben Cerveny is known to say: "New York started gentrifying in the 1970s, but Amsterdam started gentrifying in the 1790s," and the opportunity to design custom maps for a country that's essentially all infrastructure was one that we leapt at gladly.

The show runs in a series of episodes starting later this month, each addressing a different aspect of life in Holland. It starts with mobility, answering questions like "where can I live, if I work in Amsterdam and want to be able to finish the newspaper by the time I get to work on the train?" or "How far can I travel in two hours by public transport from Vlissingen?"

Upcoming episodes will deal with other ways of looking at the environment around you: examining the natural environment by comparing distances from buildings, open space, and the density of wild animals, the landscape of danger by examining rates of lightning strikes, flammable locations and the arrival times of ambulances, and the contours of the air around the country, looking at the density of birds, flght paths of planes and the highest places in the Netherlands.

The cartography for the project is custom-made for VPRO, designed to complement the channel's rich visual branding. Cities fill in based on a custom compilation we derived using a combination of NaturalEarthData and GeoNames sources, and and at lower zoom levels roads become visible and are drawn using data sourced from OpenStreetMap. On the most detailed zoom all roads are drawn and the arterial streets receive names. With roads come more place labels, now from OpenStreetMap and sized by population. Water bodies (black) are drawn using data from VPRO, as are park lands (black stipple pattern), airports, farm locations, pancake restaurants, neighborhood names, and zipcode shapes (the locations of pancake restaurants being as important to the Dutch as the locations of airports and farms, apparently).

The highlight layers are orange, because that's the national color of the Netherlands. Also, did you know that carrots are orange because that's the national color of the Netherlands; "in the 17th century, Dutch growers are thought to have cultivated orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange – who led the the struggle for Dutch independence." So: orange maps over custom OpenStreetMap cartography, a client who wanted to tell a story and was willing to stretch what it means to design a map, and a country made of canals and land claimed from the sea. Hoera!

And now, on to the rest of the rainbow:

View Project.

Sep 12, 2011

HQ2 Week 96

It's been a busy summer, and we've got a few things to share.

We're hiring a Developer

We're ready to hire again! If this is you, or someone like you, get in touch, wouldja?

Stamen's work is a creative fusion of design and technology, front-end  and back-end. Behind the maps and visualizations in our projects are rivers and streams of changing information, and the practices supporting these flows are themselves in a state of constant change. We're looking for a candidate who can work with us in our San Francisco studio to advance the state of foundational technologies supporting the collection, processing and publication of big, live data, supporting a fast-paced client-focused production environment.
You'll be working with a small team of designers and engineers led by a creative director who will be looking to you to make their ideas feasible. You're excited by the possibility of cutting and bending data to fit it through the thin straw of the internet. You can look at a source of information and model it as resources, rows and columns, messages and queues. You have the programming experience necessary to write data processors and servers, the system administration experience to inhabit and actively guide a constantly-shifting technical environment of free & open source software, and the patience & grace to grant that PHP and spreadsheets might be appropriate tools when circumstances require the quick and the dirty.
You're up for the excitement of a continuous flow of new projects, and you're willing to try new things for the sake of learning and fun. You're able to work well with multiple inputs from a variety of sources: creative direction, technical direction, production expediency, and client feedback. You're friendly & courteous, good at finding ways to have fun under the pressure of deadlines, and you're OK with our carefully-selected and well-managed clients having the final say. 

There are some other, somewhat similar positions posted at FlowingData, so if this sounds interesting I'd encourage you to check them out as well. More on the position at

MTV #VMA 2011

Shawn, Mike and Rachel headed down to LA for our third Video Music Awards project for MTV, a real-time Twitter visualization that was used alongside and within the live TV broadcast. One of the great things about working for MTV is that they're always looking to do innovative things with their projects. In this case that meant a few new things (aside from the complete visual re-design):

  • we shifted the display technology from Flash to HTML5 (sorry, Adobe, we loved you long time)
  • Paparazzi, which tracked the live popularity of retreated celebrity images, including Beyonce's by-now-legendary announcement of her baby bump, which quickly took over the whole of time and space
  • since we knew what celebrities were there, where they were sitting, and what their twitter accounts are, we could build a Hot Seat visualization of who was saying what and when
  • the work was used as a backdrop to the show on the main stage of the event

The visualization is online at

A nice side effect of using HTML5 is that the project works on mobile devices as well, which lent a nice bit of contrast to seeing the same designs on a 4" iPhone screen and a 40' high display in the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles:

We Can Create, Auckland

In the middle of all this excitement I was on the other side of the planet in Auckland, New Zealand at We Can Create, a design conference put on by THECHURCH, talking about open data and exuberant cartography and iPad apps and all the usual goodness.

A highlight was being able to spend time with two of my long-time design heroes: Frank Kozik, whose amazing blend of punk rock and up-front commercial sensibilities puts him near the top of any list of designers to admire, and Thomas Roopert, whose amazing history with antirom and tomato (I know, right? how much cooler can you get) have landed him at a really interesting place taking advantage of the overlap between social media and television at the Rumpus Room. And meeting Morag Meyerscough and Eike König was a treat I won't soon forget; it was basically super fun to be in a room full of amazing design talent and dream about the future. I'm grateful in particular to THECHURCH for putting on such a classy show, you guys really have your act together.

State of the Map

Mike and Aaron spent this last weekend at State of the Map, the annual OpenStreetMap conference in Denver. You can take a look at Aaron's talk at, and here are a couple memorable quotes from twitter about their talks:

schuyler: "If we held language to the same standard of accuracy as we hold maps, we would not have literature, humor, philosophy..."
StevenFeldman: "I don't want to live in a world where the pinnacle of our achievements are driving directions," says @thisisaaronland #sotm11 < Me neither
DeadlyiCoN@schuyler @thisisaaronland I can't imagine saying "this is one hilarious map!" and it being a good thing!/DeadlyiCoN/status/113006843177091072

Someone also seems to have used Soft Cities, my wife Nikki's new venture making custom blankets and napkins from OpenStreetMap data, in a slide at the conference, so if anyone out there knows who's presenting in this photo, would you let me know?


Our friends at MySociety have gotten further along in making the Mapumental work that we did with them live-er, and are offering limited-edition prints and embeds of the travel time isochrone maps. It's been a long time coming, and working with Tom Carden on the ways in which the data and display layers fit together was a really foundational time for the studio which continues to resonate forward, so I'm delighted to see this project start to see some sunlight. Some samples of the maps:

And that's what's going on!

Aug 25, 2011

Come on, Irene

The hurricane tracker we designed for MSNBC a few years ago has been pressed back into service, with Hurricane Irene barreling up the East Coast with 115mph winds lashing the sea just east of Fort Lauderdale:

The crazy thing (for me, an ex-New Yorker) is that it looks like they might actually get some pretty serious winds as far north as New York:

Aug 18, 2011

The World by National Geographic is live

The World, Stamen's first iPad app and our first project with the National Geographic Society, is available for download from Apple's app store today.


The heart of the app is a globe of (you guessed it) the world, with overlays of National Geographic's unmistakable cartography available for the different parts of the earth. Each of these maps can be layered over a reference, terrain or ocean globe, and you can mix and match the different styles as you like.

National Geographic has their act together in the map department, as you can imagine, and it was a great pleasure working with some of the best cartographers around (and classy too: I got a yellow border pin for my suit lapel as part of the deal). The maps are up to date, and just before launch we were glad to be able pull in a map for the newly formed Republic of South Sudan (which Google doesn't show yet on their maps almost a month later, nyah nyah):

NG's mapping style also allows for some really wonderful cartographic moments, like this example of Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu spilling out into Hawke's Bay:

It's easy to lament the move to online and digital mapping as being a move away from the tactility of paper maps; to pine for a time when decisions about line weight and printing layers mattered. One of the great pleasures of working on this project has been that the app allows for investigation of the cartographic decisions that National Geographic's map makers made even beyond what would be available in print without a loop. Jess Elder, our project sponsor at the Society, agreed early on to supply us with maps that had been generated at a minimum of 600dpi and in some cases as high as 2400 dpi (paper maps are generally around 300dpi).

So without too much effort you wind up being able to really get in there and see the kinds of decisions that go into the distinctive nature of these maps:

There's alot else happening in the app—nations, maps, and pictures too, and especially the ability to tweet, mail and post screenshots directly to Facebook—but I'll save those for a later post. From my perspective the project is basically one big wet sloppy kiss from Stamen to National Geographic's cartographers.

This project wouldn't have happened without the hard work of Ryan Alexander on the 3d spinny map action and Zain Memon on the back end. We usually don't call out individual people at Stamen—we're a collaborative studio and everyone has their role to play in contributing to each project—but in this case I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention the hard work that Jeff Easter put in to both learning iOS from scratch and pulling the whole experience together.

You can download the app here.

Jul 20, 2011

Eric Fischer's photos on Flickr

One of the great things about Eric Fischer's map experiments on Flickr is that he actually takes the time to geolocate everything. So if he's making, say, a map of where people tweet vs where they upload photos in Montreal, the photo will tell you that it was taken in Montreal. Or if it's he's scanning a plan for the freeway design of South Valley Freeway, Highland Avenue to Day Road (1959), it'll actually be in between Highland Avenue to Day Road.

Which means we can make maps in Dotspotting that look like this:

Eric Fischer's 'See Something or Say Something' photos from Flickr on Dotspotting

And like this:

Trafficways Plan for Santa Clara County California, January, 1959 by Eric Fischer on Dotspotting

(thanks to Sha Hwang for providing the impetus for this post)

Jul 20, 2011

Prisons in California, crime in the Mission, and Dots on the pavement: now with embed

There are three basic parts to working with online representations of urban civic data in Dotspotting: coallating the data, manipulating it, and then sharing and publishing it. Up until now we've been focused on the first two, which makes sense: obviously you need to be able to gather and work with the data before you can share it. Today we're announcing the inclusion of the project's most requested feature: embedding the maps that people make into sites of their own.

The "embed/export" feature has been reworked to include the ability to generate html code that you can configure to your own specs, depending on how your site is formatted. Basic embed code is available in default mode, which will generate a map that looks pretty much the way that it does on Dotspotting:


There are a couple of different options in embed; so for example you can swap out the normal toner cartography for Bing's new (awesome) map tiles:


We've been working with Mission Local, a news organization that reports on our home base of the Mission District, to find ways to take the lessons learned from the Crimespotting project and give this ability to local publications and advocates. The crime theme we've developed with them lets you generate maps that look like the one below, if you provide a "crime type" value in your data:

crime June 21st-28th updated on Dotspotting

And my favorite so far is the photo theme, which takes a 'flickr:id' or 'photo_url' field from your data (say, a set on flickr) and generates a visual mapping of where the photos are:

Dots on the pavement from flickr on Dotspotting

We're planning on releasing more of these as time goes by; if you've got ideas for a theme you'd like to see, please upload some data and get in touch!

Jul 20, 2011

Photos from the MoMA show

Aaron went to the opening of Talk to Me at MoMA last night, and sent back some lovely photosynths autostitches and photos of the event. I've been back here in San Francisco working on the exhibition website and other things so wasn't able to attend the opening, but I'm looking forward to seeing it when I'm in New York next week. In any event, some photos of Walking Papers and Prettymaps, in the show. Hooray!

Photos by Aaron.

Jul 19, 2011

MoMA's Talk to Me Exhibit goes live today

We're pleased to be featured in a second design exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Talk To Me, curated by Paola Antonelli and opening to the press tonight.

Our team have two pieces in the exhibit: prettymaps, the open data yellow-and-green smorgasbord that we accounced last year, and Walking Papers, the Open Street Map-based project on display for a few more days at the Art Institute of Chicago. We also designed the accompanying website for the exhibit, currently availabile in beta at


Walking Papers:

Projects on the site are connected in a variety of ways: the curators have categorized the works into objects, maps, and double entendres, among other things, and numerous projects' curated categorisations overlap. The artists themselves are more or less connected in different ways: Aaron and Mike both work at Stamen, for example, and we have a strong set of interconnected twitter relationships with our friends at Berg and the Really Interesting Group, both with a presence in the show.

We decided to pull all these relationships into a single value: how related is this one project to others in the show, and by how much? And give the viewer the option to adjust how many related projects they wanted to see. Scrolling lets you decide whether you want to focus on the artwork in question, or have the rest of the catalog crowd in.

Communication Prosthesis:

The Big Red Button:

Objects View:

Rubiks Cube for the Blind:

Locals and Tourists:

Here and There:

Jul 7, 2011

Map Equals Yes

Most online maps are designed to help you get around in a car. This generally means displaying: roads, businesses, buildings, on-ramps, parks, oceans and traffic congestion. Nothing wrong with that! Designers get handed a tool kit that has as many tools as a good swiss army knife, and the maps reflect these tools. Millions of people use them to make appointments across town, find restaurants, and drive home for the holidays.

But what if, instead of a swiss army knife, we used a box of crayons? Or charcoal and newsprint? Or play-doh? What would those maps look like? What could they tell us about the world?

Working with the smart people at MapQuest Open, we've put together a new set of interactive maps using OpenStreetMap data that explore this question. It's called "map=yes", and it has three objectives:

  • To explore new possibilities for online mapping in a world of increasingly open data sources like Open Street Map, the world-wide Wikipedia for maps built by volunteers.
  • To highlight the kinds of things that are possible now that MapQuest has committed to supporting their own OSM XAPI (pronounced "zappy"), or Extensive Application Programming Interface.
  • To have fun! Maps that look like they came out of Sin City are rad, and there should be more of them.

View Project


San Francisco



Jun 29, 2011

Dotspotting's Toner Cartography available for download

One of the central tenets of the Knight News Challenge grant for Citytracking was that the work would happen in public, and that we'd make the work public as we go. The project has been downloadable on GitHub for some time now, and will continue to be so, and we're announcing today the availability of the source files for Toner, the online cartographic style that underlies the project.

We're considering a few different options for hosting these tiles long-term; supporting a few hundred users is all well and good, but having the whole world hammer on a custom tile server is going to take some doing. Interested parties, please get in touch! The project needs your input.

In the meantime, here are examples of some of the world's tonier (see what I did there?) areas:

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Midtown Manhattan

Champ De Mars (Eiffel Tower), Paris

Champ De Mars (Eiffel Tower) 2, Paris

Tiergarten, Berlin

Cross-posted on PBS Idea blog