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Nov 19, 2013

Field Papers in the field

Two things.

Thing 1:

"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!

Thing 2:

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.

Nov 6, 2013

OpenStreetMap: Every Line Ever, Every Point Ever

by Alan

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 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.

Oct 30, 2013

Surging Seas v2.

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:

View Project.

Oct 22, 2013

Two Talks in Austin

by George

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!

Oct 2, 2013

Turning medical data into artful data viz

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."

Oct 2, 2013

Jawbone at TED 2013

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.

Sep 16, 2013

New Work: Copenhagen Bike Map

by Geraldine

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.

Bike Tour

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

Bike Routes

  • 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

Cobblestone Streets

The gray dotted lines indicate cobblestone streets.

Bike Barriers

Bike barriers are indicated by 2 diagonal lines. Especially important for cargo bikes.


Steps are in orange. Blue indicates that a bike ramp is available.

Other Features


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

Sep 12, 2013

25 by 12 feet

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!

Aug 26, 2013

Zoe's Final Report

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 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!

Aug 2, 2013

Stamen maps in Dodocase

I'm pleased to announce another product offering from Stamen; to satisfy your map object cravings, we're partnering with the smarties at Dodocase to bring you custom wooden iPad cases, with maps from the project on the inside.

For now, they're available in two styles: a modified version of Toner called Toner-lines and Watercolor, and in three cities: our hometown of San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. We're starting with these for now, and hope to iterate with new styles and cities in the near future.

So far New York is the clear winner sales-wise, with San Francisco a close second and LA lagging farther behind than we were expecting. I think this is because NY and SF have the benefit of clear geographic boundaries and classic coastlines; in order to get all of LA in the frame you have to zoom out pretty far and it doesn't look like much. So I'm looking for feedback on what a better view of LA would be—maybe I can get some enterprising mapmakers to head over to and build me an image of your LA? And if you'd like to see other cities in a Dodocase, you know how to find us, so please let us know.

(Indicentally, savvy viewers will note that the case with San Francisco in it actually has an iPad with a background image of the eastern side of the city itself, just to give you a sense of the level of detail the good people at DODO bring to their endeavors)

The partnership with DODO is giving me something I've wanted for a while now: the ability to set a process in motion and then make changes to it depending on what happens in the marketplace. What we can do now is release a product, in fairly short order see how the different products are doing, and adjust accordingly. So that's fun.

Here's Toner:

and here's Watercolor:

And check out that ribbon!

They're available for the iPad mini, you can customize them over here, and there's an interview with me on the Dodocase blog. Go DODO!