Climate change, though we know it's there, is a hard thing to see: it's slow, it's invisible, and if you don't know what you're looking for, then you might not even miss it once its gone.
Birds, however, are often hard to miss: they can be loud, bright, beautiful, strange. It turns out that by watching where their flight ranges are shifting now, we can get some idea about where they are going, which points to some likely patterns of climate change and how it will affect an ecosystem in the not-so-distant future.
This is precisely the kind of data that the Audubon Society has been collecting extensively about North American bird flight range changes, and in this project we have helped them to visualize it. Working with data from “the broadest and most detailed study of its kind,” the visualizations we’ve made together, with a lovely site designed by our friends at Mule, collectively comprise “the closest thing we have to a field guide to the future of North American birds.”
Hundreds of thousands of observations (drawn from the long-running citizen science projects the North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Christmas Bird Count) combined with sophisticated climate modeling create these predictions of where certain birds will be, when. Suddenly we have a clearer idea of where each specific bird will go, not just that they will all travel north. [Waves hands to indicate broad area of northernness.]
The dataset for all 314 birds contained both summer and winter range predictions. Our main challenge was to make this data engaging for the public. For us, this meant making the visualizations easy to understand, as well as easy to share.
Realizing that individual animations would make it easiest to see the change, we decided to make a GIF for each bird.
Not quite like that. Rather, for each year in our dataset – 2000, 2020, 2050, and 2080 – we created a shifting cloud of movement showing the probability of where the birds’ range is now and where it's likely headed in the future. Yellow represents summer, blue winter, and green is a combination of both seasons. The yellow and blue outlines mark the 2000 summer and winter ranges to make it easy to see how things change over time.
We’ve been enjoying the wispy, smoky detail that comes through on the map...as much as anyone can enjoy maps about such massive and potentially disastrous changes for so many animals. Just look at the beautiful detail in the Rocky Mountains in the maps for the Northern Shoveler or the Ruffed Grouse!
To create these maps, we wrote a script against Tilemill, one of our favorite cartographic styling tools. In the end, we rendered more than 1200 maps (four years of data for each of the 300+ birds).
In addition to the maps, we made two Venn diagrams for each bird as well. These overlapping circles show both the area of the potential 2080 range, but also how much the current range overlaps with the future range. That's crucial. Some birds (like the Hooded Oriole) might have big increases in theoretical range, but if there's no overlap, we can't be sure whether the bird can take advantage of that new range.
In some cases there is a lot of overlap, like with the Mallard:
As sobering as this work has been to create, we thoroughly enjoyed working with both Mule and Audubon to create it.
To learn more and take action, visit climate.audubon.org. Find your favorite map and share it with your friends! Or better yet, go outside and find a bird that you might not see again in the next 20-80 years.
STAMEN DESIGN MAPS OUT EXPANSION FOR LEADERSHIP IN THE FIELD OF DATA VISUALIZATION:NAMES JON CHRISTENSEN AS PARTNER & OPENS NEW OFFICE IN LOS ANGELES;ANNOUNCES GROUNDBREAKING SOCIAL SENSE-MAKING, ENVIRONMENTAL & MASS MEDIA PROJECTS
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, September 3, 2014 — Stamen Design, known for award-winning design in the field of data visualization and its beautiful and technologically sophisticated mapping projects—laid out its plan today to service the expanding frontier of communications for big data. The San Francisco-based firm announced Jon Christensen as a partner and strategic adviser. Christensen, a veteran journalist (New York Times, High Country News, LA Observed), editor (Boom: A Journal of California), and academic (Stanford, UCLA) is opening a Los Angeles office for Stamen. He will provide an infusion of capital for the company to invest in product development as well as strategic guidance and relationships for expanding business in a range of areas where his own career has developed, including environmental, scientific, journalism, mass media, cultural, museum, library, and educational markets.
The announcement is the latest step in a series of collaborations between Stamen Design and Christensen. As a result of the new partnership, the fortified Stamen has released and is currently developing several new public data visualization projects, including charting the impact of sea level rise on communities nationwide with Climate Central, exploring water quality and quantity risks along with opportunities for conservation in cities worldwide with The Nature Conservancy, helping San Francisco Bay Area museums publicly share data about their collections, and creating new open data and open mapping tools for the Knight Foundation’s Knight News Challenge. Additionally, Stamen will use new capital to develop spin-off products and services that flow naturally out of these client projects and can be used by multiple customers to meet their mapping and data visualization needs in commercial, nonprofit, and academic markets.
Eric Rodenbeck, Founder, CEO & Creative Director of Stamen, stated: “With open data, Stamen found an opportunity to connect its experimental and commercial projects to become a leading brand in this field. With Jon’s help, Stamen is poised to substantially expand its reach in commercial, nonprofit, and educational markets. Together, our data visualization tools will drive news, create dialogues, provide key intelligence, influence decisions, and identify potential solutions for the challenges facing our most important natural and cultural resources. We announce Jon’s partnership, our new Los Angeles office, and our future work together with great enthusiasm, having found in him the partner who can extend our reach while confirming and enhancing all of Stamen’s existing strengths.”
“I am thrilled to be joining Stamen Design as a partner and am tremendously excited to head the company’s Los Angeles office,” Christensen said. “I’ve followed Stamen’s work closely over the years as a researcher, historian, journalist, educator, and curator of public projects. Data visualization, digital mapping, and interactive storytelling are becoming increasingly important in these areas. Stamen is the place you go when you’re ready to get serious about communicating with your data, and I’m excited to see our clients come to us with questions about the use of visualization across the spectrum from history to science, finance to logistics. It’s great to be at the forward edge of discovering what’s possible with mapping and data, and I’m looking forward to helping Stamen continue to thrive there.”
About Jon Christensen
Jon Christensen has been an environmental journalist and science writer for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Nature, the San Francisco Chronicle, High Country News, and many other newspapers, magazines, journals, and radio and television shows. He is the editor of Boom: A Journal of California, a quarterly magazine published by the University of California Press that brings scholars, researchers, writers, artists, policymakers, and the public into common conversations about California in the world; and a regular columnist at LA Observed. He is an adjunct assistant professor, journalist-in-residence, and senior fellow in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, the Department of History, the Center for Digital Humanities, and cityLAB at the University of California, Los Angeles. Prior to UCLA, Jon served as executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, an interdisciplinary center for research, teaching, new media, and journalism at Stanford University. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford in 2002-2003 and serves as a trustee on the board of the California Historical Society.
Since 2001, Stamen Design has led the field of interactive mapping and data visualization. The studio builds beautiful, technically sophisticated projects for a diverse set of clients. Stamen combines strong creative strategy, design, engineering and software development. The studio complements the expertise of its clients through collaborations that bring to life a wide range of compelling interactive mapping and data visualization projects. Stamen’s interests, process and disciplines apply across a wide swath of industries and project types. The work ranges from elegant and utilitarian maps to entertaining data visualizations for MTV and artistic and evocative works in MOMA. Stamen designs with real data, not ideas of what data could or should be. The studio designs and builds dozens of custom projects a year, many of them pushing the boundaries of creativity and technology. Stamen also participates in many of the communities that develop and support open data and open source software. This keeps the studio’s design and technical capabilities broad and deep, and helps provide the best sustainable solutions for clients.
In 2010, Stamen was awarded a Knight News Grant to build tools that help people tell better stories about cities. I'm pleased to announce that we've been awarded another grant from Knight to extend and support this project, as follows:
Terrain layers, at all zoom levels, outside the US
Transfer the hosting and processing to a cloud-based infrastructure to increase stability, scalability, server response and service levels, creating more reliability and confidence for those considering using the tile sets, & to allow for more frequent data updates
Improving the accessibility and openness of the code base for the whole system
All too often, foundations and granting organizations get excited about funding new projects, without adequately considering how to support them once they've been launched. It's great to see Knight stepping out of this mold; Chris Barr and John Bracken are thinking about the future and it's great to have their continued support.
The project is used all over the place, which is great to see. Seth reports that we've served 329 million tiles since July 25th of this year, and 277 million in August so far.
This announcement comes at the same time as we're announcing a fairly substantial update to the project, Toner in particular. We've moved the infrastructure for the project off of Tile Farm, the communal server in Zynga's basement, and it's now living entirely on production-quality servers "in the cloud". We've worked out how to reliably import a whole planet's worth of data from Open Street Map, so you'll start seeing much more up to date data moving forward.
The new Toner also contains some significant design updates. The repo is open source as usual, at https://github.com/stamen/toner-carto. But the real pop, for me, is to see how far OSM has come since we last published it. There are so. many. more. buildings! And lakes and rivers and streams and detailed canals and quays and on ramps. The project is just continuing to seriously kick ass, and it's amazing to really dig in to what the army of volunteer mappers who make it happen have been up to.
In the following screenshots, the old Toner tiles are on the left, and new Toner is on the right.
At lower zooms we increased the detail on the coastlines, which will look really sweet on retina displays. Also note South Sudan has been added:
We improved which borders are displayed. Old Toner wasn't showing the borders between England, Scotland, and Wales. Now, that's all we show at this zoom level, and we wait to display smaller subdivisions until you zoom in further:
We use OpenStreetMap at higher zoom levels, and there has been a lot of improvement in the last few years.
The old Toner data was from early 2012, before OpenStreetMap's license change from a Creative Commons Share-Alike license to the Open Database License (ODbL).
Tokyo, Japan shows a lot of improvement, both in the data and how we style it:
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam shows new roads, but also how the styling of existing roads has improved. The neighborhood streets are more subtle at this zoom level.
A lot of cities in the US now have complete coverage of buildings. We've adjusted Toner's settings so that large buildings show up sooner as you zoom in. For example, in San Francisco, California you can see many more buildings at zoom 14, especially in the former industrial district of Soma.
By zoom 16, you can see all the buildings.
Seattle, Washington also has every building in OSM.
Notice the improved detail along the waterfront.
New York City now has every building, too. And look at those piers!
Seoul, South Korea has more streets and buildings in the center of the city
Look at the detail in the harbor of Hamburg, Germany
Amsterdam had a lot of building footprints before, but look at how much detail there is now!
More detail of individual buildings in Rotterdam, Netherlands, too:
You can now see the Parthenon in the Acropolis of Athens, Greece, along with thousands of other buildings
I'm so very sorry to have to tell you that Zach passed away this afternoon. The doctors determined a few days ago that his coma would be permanent, and he was taken off of life support at 3:14pm.
It's appropriate that he would leave us then, right at the number pi. I personally knew the side of him that was deeply involved with math, having worked with him on so many wonderful projects while he was at Stamen. I had second hand knowledge of the other side of him, the part that was perhaps even more deeply involved with food, and dancing, and embracing life. He was a smart interesting curious man, quick to laughter and very much on his own path. The work he did with me and Stamen is some of the work that I'm proudest of in my life. I was thrilled for him when he decided to continue his career after Stamen at the Exploratorium, and I'm sorry not to have seen more of the work he did there. Today the world lost a great artist and thinker and bon vivant.
Finding water data is harder than I thought. Like detective Gittes in the movie Chinatown, I’m poking my nose around and asking everyone about water. Instead of murder and slimy deals, I am scouring the internet and working with city government. I’ve spent many hours sleuthing and learning about the water system in our city.
In San Francisco, where this story takes place, we have three primary water systems. Here’s an overview:
The Sewer System is owned and operated by the SFPUC. The DPW provides certain engineering services. This is a combined stormwater and wastewater system. Yup, that’s right, the water you flush down the toilet goes into the same pipes as the the rainwater. Everything gets piped to a state-of-the art wastewaster treatment plant. Amazingly the sewer pipes are fed almost entirely by gravity, taking advantage of the natural landscape of the city.
The Auxiliary Water Supply System (AWSS) was built in 1908 just after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It is an entire water system that is dedicated solely to firefighting. 80% of the city was destroyed not by earthquake itself, but by the fires that ravaged the city. The fires rampaged through the city mostly because the water mains collapsed. Just afterwards, the city began construction on a separate this infrastructure for combatting future fires. It consists of reservoirs that feed an entire network of pipes to high-pressure fire hydrants and also includes approximately 170 underground cisterns at various intersections in the city. This incredible separate water system is unique to San Francisco.
The Potable WaterSystem, a.k.a. drinking water is the water we get from our faucets and showers. It comes from the Hetch Hetchy — a historic valley but also a reservoir and water system constructed from 1913-1938 to provide water to San Francisco. This history is well-documented, but what I know little about is how the actual drinking water gets piped into San Francisco. homes Also, the San Francisco water is amongst the most safe in the world, so you can drink directly from your tap.
Given all of this, where is the story? This is the question that I asked folks at Stamen, Autodesk and Gray Area during a hyper-productive brainstorming session last week. Here’s the whiteboard with the notes. The takeaways, as folks call it are, are below and here I’m going to get nitty-gritty into process.
(whiteboard brainstorming session with Stamen)
(1) In my original proposal, I had envisioned a table-top version of the entire water infrastucture: pipes, cisterns, manhole chambers, reservoirs as a large-scale sculpture, printed in panels. It was kindly pointed out to me by the Autodesk Creative Projects team that this is unfeasible. I quickly realized the truth of this: 3D prints are expensive, time-consuming to clean and fragile. Divide the sculptural part of the project into several small parts.
(2) People are interested in the sewer system. Someone said, “I want to know if you take a dump at Nob Hill, where does the poop go?” It’s universal. Everyone poops, even the Queen of England and even Batman. It’s funny, it’s gross, it’s entirely human. This could be accessible to everyone.
(4) Think about focusing on making a beautiful and informative 3D map / data-visualization of just 1 square mile of San Francisco infrastructure. Hone on one area of the city.
(5) Complex systems can be modeled virtually. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been running code tests, talking to many people in city government and building out an entire water modeling systems in C++ using OpenFrameworks. It’s been slow, deliberate and arduous. Balance the physical models with a complex virtual one.
I'm still not sure exactly where this project is heading, which is to be expected at this stage. For now, I’m mining data and acting as a detective. In the meantime, here is the trailer for Chinatown, which gives away the entire plot in 3 minutes.
Outside our own kitchens, gas leaks aren’t something we’d ever thought much about here at Stamen. But being a studio filled with progressive San Francisco do-gooders and all, we do think about climate change and sustainability. We also think an inordinate amount about all the sensors out in the world gathering data – satellites, airplanes, cellphones, Jawbones, and, of course, those Google Street View cars.
Stamen worked with EDF and Google Earth Outreach to design and build a system that EDF staff could use to crunch complex data files used by scientists into easily digestible maps that give an immediate sense of the scale of leaks in various cities around the country. For now, the maps cover only Boston, Indianapolis, and Staten Island, but Google will keep gathering data in more cities and the system we built for EDF allows them to easily add more maps as more cities come online.
Here’s New York, which is totally covered in methane leak occurrences:
As is Boston:
You might ask, is this normal? Well, take a look at Indianapolis:
There’s a lot less going on.
It was important to EDF and Google that we show the paths the cars drove, as well as the leaks detected, since the absence of leaks could mean sound pipes, or just an area that hadn’t yet been sampled. We took our cue from the familiar blue lines of Google Street View maps to show the drive paths, and then desaturated the base map to make sure the focus stayed on the leaks and sample areas.
Among our design goals for the project was to balance the visual presentation against the nature of the data. The leaks detected are really something called “verified peaks” — elevated methane levels detected frequently enough and at high enough levels to be significant. But, given winds and the potential for leaks to be contained in buildings and a thousand other variables, a measured peak doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a leak at an exact location out to n-decimals of latitude and longitude. So we opted for larger dots and diffuse edges.
And all these leaks are much lower than anything that would cause your neighborhood to erupt in flames. So the overall palette is a bit muted — nothing’s going to explode!
But our vast natural gas system — from wells getting drilled across the county to the networks of pipes in our cities to the knob on your kitchen stove — does make a huge difference for the future of our climate. We’re delighted to have helped EDF and Google begin mapping the part of that infrastructure that most closely touches tens of millions of people across the country.
We’ve been quiet about something cooking here at Stamen, in part because it’s new and experimental, and in part because we’ve been so busy doing it that we haven’t made time to write yet. That something is our Education program, run by Beth.
Stamen has had internships before, but this summer we wanted to take it a step further. Rather than having students work on bits of client projects, we decided that we really wanted to create a program that affords both research and design on a single project. This approach gives fellows the opportunity to complete a work with us that they feel proud of and that advances the current state of knowledge in their area of interest.
Although each fellow is working on their own project, what unites them all is a focus on urban data and making something invisible about the city of San Francisco truly visible.
Meet the Fellows
Andreas Viglakis // Uncovering Bay Area Transit
Andreas is a recent graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and has worked as an architect and urban designer in Shanghai, New York, and Hong Kong. His work this summer, in partnership with urban planning think tank SPUR, focuses on San Francisco’s fragmented transit system and how it's affected by the changing economic climate of the Bay Area.
A scale study comparing the size of the Bay Area to the size of other major cities. Shown above: Bay Area over New York.
Kristin Henry // Storytelling with Sounds in San Francisco
Kristin Henry, a fellow in partnership with Gray Area, is a generative artist and computer scientist specializing in science and data visualization. She also founded GalaxyGoo.org, a small non-profit for science literacy, where she leads a group of volunteer tech + art + science enthusiasts. During mid-career graduate studies in Computer Science, she developed an Android application that collects sound and some Python scripts to analyze and visualize the resulting collection of audio recordings. This summer, she’s using this technology to develop a sound map of San Francisco.
Sketches of walking paths and recordings.
Scott Kildall // Water Works
Scott Kildall is a visual artist who writes algorithms that transform various datasets into 3D sculptures and installations, which imagine “what data looks like.” His project for the Creative Code Fellowship is called Water Works and will include a 3D-printed data visualization of the San Francisco water system, which includes drinking water, sewer and storm pipes and emergency fire-fighting systems, all of which interact in various ways to provide a dynamic city infrastructure. His fellowship this summer is in partnership with Gray Area and Autodesk's Pier 9 Workshop, who is providing access to their workshop and advanced machine training in conjunction with their Artist in Residence program.
Screenshot of a mesh of manholes of the San Francisco water system, z-axis exaggerated.
Moira Forberg is a current MBA student at Harvard Business School and is interested in the intersection of design and technology. Prior to school, she worked on hardware design for 3D printing projects at MIT and Disney Research, and worked as a strategy consultant at OC&C. This summer, she is helping Stamen design best practices for intellectual property (IP) management around internal research projects and productization.
About the classes
So this is all great, but why is Stamen getting involved in education in the first place?
Stamen has always been a place for experimentation and research, typically through our research projects. We’ve also been involved in teaching people how to do this kind of work for a number of years now, historically with a focus on developers. While that focus continues to be important, the world of visualization has changed and what’s new is a focus on mapmaking and data visualization literacy for all skill levels, and an effort to support education around truly creative coding (i.e. the beautiful universe that exists beyond charts and graphs).
Inspiration for developing this practice around education came from Maptime, which Beth started here at Stamen last year. In addition to helping even more people learn how to make maps, it’s also building a community through education. We aspire for Stamen’s education program to have a similar community building aspect to it as well, using educational and research activities as a way to engage the public, use public data, and when possible, to collaborate with some of the talented visualizers and cartographers and mathematicians and artists on our network map and beyond.
Additionally, we believe it’s important for businesses in our space to pay it forward. This sentiment has its roots in the spirit of open source software development, and in practice it also gives us an opportunity to meet new people and try new things. Thanks to our fellowship program, for example, we’re learning so much about visualization-based installations, physical computing and non-web visualization. It gives us a chance to be students again, as well as teachers.
Eric’s always talking about how he never wanted to work for a cigarette company during the day to pay the bills, and for Greenpeace at night to salve his conscience, but instead wanted to commit a studio towards relevant work that also pays for everyone’s 401(k). Beth’s always talking about how she dreams of starting her own experimental, forward-thinking school that focuses on art, design, technology, and sustainability. Together, we foresee some lovely opportunities and collaborations in our future. It’s starting here in the Bay, with Gray Area, Autodesk, and SPUR. We’re excited to see where this experiment goes next.
Interested in collaborating with Stamen on a educational activity? Want to get more information about next year’s fellowships and internships? Drop a line to education [at] stamen [dot] com.
Stamen has long aspired to make it easier for people everywhere to visualize data, particularly on and with maps. In our recent partnership with Tableau, we’ve helped to improve a tool that does just that. Tableau’s latest version, 8.2, comes complete with a mapping suite designed by us. Suddenly it’s that much easier for people all over to make beautiful maps with their data.
The maps come in three varieties: light, dark, and blue water.
Light maps are meant to be as subdued as possible, using hints of terrain to provide texture.
The dark maps are designed for bright colors, barely hinting at the outline of country borders.
Blue Waters are meant to provide a similar subtlety as the light maps, only with more natural tones.
Our goals for the project were:
A clean, modern look and feel.
Consistency across the three maps. They should be strong enough to stand alone but work together as a set.
That the maps be beautiful in themselves, but primarily built to display data.
Finding the right shades for the background, shades that work well with all of Tableau’s standard palettes, brought a level of science to the color process that we had simply never practiced before. Typically Stamen's approach to color is an intuitive, experimental and evocative one; color theory is present but not primary. Tableau’s maps, in contrast, required rigorous testing and iteration for even the most incremental tweaks in order to retain contrast. Tableau’s Visual Analyst, Maureen Stone, was our guide deep into the world of color science. In doing so, she taught us more about color calibration than we ever would have thought to learn. We now know that color is not just about trusting the eyes; it’s also about trusting the numbers. The numbers are what allow a wide range of colors – important for data layers – to have consistent levels of contrast and pizazz.
This connection of art and science is part of what made the project come out so well. The resulting map design system has a consistency and intensity to it that we haven’t seen with any other out-of-the-box analytic tools.
We applaud Tableau’s use of Leaflet and OpenStreetMap for creating and presenting these maps. We're proud every time we can help one of our clients make the switch to designing with open data.
This year, people across California began getting health insurance coverage in new ways, thanks to President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.
As the new marketplaces, subsidies, and penalties got discussed and debated in the media this spring, we at Stamen were hard at work with our frequent client the California Healthcare Foundation, creating a system to visualize and communicate a range of key measures to assess the impact and effectiveness of Obamacare.
It was initially a bit daunting to develop a systematic, dynamic way to display all this raw data, but we were determined to help make the ACA understandable by applying some delight to the figures.
Within each indicator, the data is sliced in several ways: types of care, providers, demographics, enrollment, quality of care, income levels, even geographic averages. With so many categories, the data can give you a general overview or a very specific peek into health coverage. After relentless explorations, we’ve developed a system we think works pretty darn well. And it’s a solution flexible enough to accommodate new data in years to come.
The data is broken down into three categories: Domain, Topic, and Indicator. Once the user makes their selection, they are taken to the indicator’s page, which then has a variety of data points to look at.
By default, the page opens to the Total datapoint and the most recent year of data collected, with trending data displayed on the left. Indicators with data from more than one year also let you browse through the different years. Once you click on another tab, you have the ability to compare those specific data points to the trended totals, as well as the ability to export, share, or embed the data you’re looking at.
The combination of data points results in thousands of potential exports. Here are some examples of other charts you’ll find in the project:
The technical challenges in the project were in how to make the whole system run off a simple set of spreadsheets that anyone could edit in Excel. We worked hard to make sure that CHCF can manage the project into the future, adding new indicators and assigning chart types to them, all via simple text files they can publish through their existing content management system.
We’re looking forward to seeing those trend lines fill out for years to come — and, we hope, measure ever better health coverage and health care for California.