Stamen is a design and technology studio in San Francisco.

You are at Stamen's blog, mostly written by Eric Rodenbeck. You can subscribe via RSS, or get email alerts.

Contact Stamen

    follow Stamen on Twitter

    Recent blog posts

    Nov 30, 2015

    Maps + algorithms to bring infrastructure and services to urban slums worldwide

    In the developed world, we take it for granted that every home or place of work has access to basic infrastructure and services. This includes clean water, electricity, sanitation, and access for emergency vehicles in case of need. But this is far from being the rule in many developing cities. It’s a particularly stark challenge in informal settlements or slums, home to more than 1 billion people around the world.

    This year, Stamen has been working with the Santa Fe Institute and UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design for Slum Dwellers International to create Open Reblock, a public interface for their innovative research to develop better planning and development tools for informal settlements. The result is a publicly available tool at It takes maps of existing buildings and roads or paths and uses a sophisticated algorithm to create a map showing how city infrastructure and services can be brought to informal settlements with the least disruption for existing communities and their residents.

    Informal settlements are part of cities worldwide, and they’re growing rapidly. Some demographers estimate that virtually all of the population growth on the planet in this century will effectively be absorbed by informal settlements. A single city “block” in informal settlements can have hundreds of residences, most without direct street access. It’s difficult to provide services, roads, water, and sewage, in these situations. One reason often cited for either doing nothing or for the demolition and redevelopment of these settlements is their lack of easy access for infrastructure and services. Open Reblock provides an alternative — a way forward for integrating services in existing informal settlements, respecting these communities, while helping them gain access to essential services. It does this by generating maps to connect as many parcels as possible — up to all of the parcels — in a block to roads and utilities.

    This project builds on our history of working with organizations to create accessible mapping tools. Stamen has a strong interest in enabling digital platforms for engaging cities and humanitarian mapping. FieldPapers is used worldwide by NGOS and community organizations to connect offline and analog mapping efforts to OpenStreetMap. Our work for organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and Climate Central bring big environmental issues down to a human scale, to shape conversations around conservation, climate policy, and the needs of people in cities worldwide.

    Our continued contributions to and involvement in the open-source community is a company ethos. We believe that open and transparent data and mapping systems are good for the world. And they’re also good for business. We can’t wait to see how communities use this new Open Reblock tool, and the results of having access to this innovative use of open, algorithmic planning strategies!

    Oct 19, 2015

    "Bohunk computer modeling"

    "It's just absurd, and it's all based on bogus, bohunk computer modeling. There's not one shred of scientific data," he said.

    Rush Limbaugh just called our recent sea level rise work with Climate Central "utterly preposterous."

    Bohunk? Because, you know, scientists are nerds and computer models so clearly don't work. We must be doing something right!

    Oct 16, 2015

    Bringing the best of National Geographic’s classic map design into the digital world

    Since 1915, the National Geographic Society has been making some of the best maps the world has ever seen. So we were honored, humbled, and maybe even a little nervous when we got the opportunity to work closely with the Nat Geo team designing and building an interactive feature all about the Amazon, launched yesterday.

    Just how much history did we need to live up to? As it happens, Nat Geo marked the centennial of its map-making in January 2015 with this fine article, which gives us a cumulative snapshot:

    At this writing (the count is obsolete as soon as it is tallied), National Geographic cartographers have produced 438 supplement maps, ten world atlases, dozens of globes, about 3,000 maps for the magazine, and many maps in digital form.

    At Stamen, we’ve been making digital maps for a decade and a half, pushing especially on the idea that digital cartography can have every bit as much craft and delight as the best of print maps.

    We were most definitely not starting from scratch. Indeed, we approached the project with a shared commitment to drawing as much as possible from Nat Geo’s print assets and tools and from Stamen’s history using open source web mapping tools to design with data.

    As soon as we dug into the work, we discovered we were making a lot more than a map. Yes, the foldout print piece featured a detailed set of maps on one side, but it also showcased beautifully detailed illustrations of the three main types of forest in the Amazon, along with a dozen stand-alone renderings of species ranging from a harpy eagle to a jaguar (elements which some map nerds call the “epimap”). And it drew on a wide range of data that could be visualized in new ways on the web.

    With such rich and diverse visual assets, Stamen designer Nicolette Hayes worked closely with National Geographic’s design team (especially Fernando Baptista and Vitomir Zarkovic, along with project lead Ryan Morris) to design an interface that could give both detailed context or a simple, clean overview.

    Maps from Print to Web

    We knew that the Nat Geo cartography team uses MAPublisher with Adobe Illustrator to make its print maps, painstakingly fine-tuning individual labels and line placements as one can do with print tools. That kind of control is possible with web tools, but it’s not easy.

    We had a choice: Try to recreate the print map from scratch using pure web tools or find a middle way to reuse the work Nat Geo had done for print.

    From the start, reuse made a lot more sense. We had two key challenges: Introducing zoom-dependent styling (especially for labels) and rendering a map in a projection other than Web Mercator. (Map nerd explanation: Almost all maps you see on the web are in Web Mercator, which fits well into the square grid of the web but distorts reality significantly. Almost all good print maps use some other projection that reduces distortion for the focus area and purpose of the map.)

    Using techniques we first tried on this simple Ocean Planning map, we developed a deceptively simple method to solve the projection problem: Create all tiles in the same desired projection but then simply let the Leaflet mapping library we use treat them as if they were in Web Mercator. We call it “lying to Leaflet.” A little deception is a good thing in this case. (You can get a bit more detail in this slide deck.)

    For zoom-dependent styling, the solution was essentially hand work between Stamen’s Alan McConchie and Nat Geo’s Virginia Mason and Debbie Gibbons, carefully increasing label size and decreasing density and making other tweaks until each zoom looked just right.

    Artworks as Maps

    If the maps give you the lay of the land, the illustrations bring you into the heart of the forest, taking the flat map plane and turning it vertical, where so much of rainforest diversity comes to life.

    We debated for a brief period about how to make sure that the illustrations got equal footing with the map. At first, there didn’t seem to be an obvious pattern to follow. But it turned out the answer was simple: treat the drawings like maps.

    So we took the high-resolution source files and turned them into zoomable and pannable images. Just like a map, you can zoom out for an overview or zoom in to see intricate details and reveal labels on the various animals in the scene.

    Context and Change Over Time

    The maps and artwork give us a full spatial picture of the Amazon, but we also wanted to show change over time.

    For the cyclical flooding that occurs each year, Nat Geo’s Fernando Baptista animated the waters rising to attract a whole different set of inhabitants. For the more sobering changes of fire and deforestation, the Stamen team created two animations from data provided by the Nat Geo editorial team, rendering individual frames in TileMill and pulling them together in Adobe After Effects. These show regional fires on the left and a zoomed-in view of deforestation on the right:


    Oh, and en tres idiomas

    The project is being published in English, Portuguese, and Spanish (the latter two launching soon). Stamen’s director of technology Seth Fitzsimmons and project director Dan Rademacher worked with Nat Geo’s translators and our technology partners at Presence PG to build the site in a way that made it simple to swap out not just text but also images and map layers that included either words or units (to switch between imperial and metric).

    Ready for more!

    Grafting together workflows and expertise from print and digital worlds was incredibly rewarding: both in the process and in the results. We’re looking forward to more opportunities to help evolve the tools and methods we’ve started using in this project.

    Oct 15, 2015

    Toyota OnRamp Challenge starts tomorrow

    Bill is down in Mountain View at Hacker DoJo tonight for Toyota's OnRamp Challenge, which starts tomorrow and runs through Saturday. We're helping curate and visualize data for the duration of the project and helping contestants access the data that Toyota's provided. If you're into tech and mobility, the event should be right up your alley.

    Spots for test drives of this sustainable three-wheel compact vehicle are available this Friday and Saturday, if you want to consider joining the program. Sign ups for the program are available at

    Oct 13, 2015

    Sea Level Rise: Mapping the future so we can make better choices today

    Yesterday, we launched critical new work with our longtime partners at Climate Central: Mapping Choices lays out starkly the stakes of carbon emissions over the next several decades.

    It also shows us a much more sobering picture than is often shown in near-term climate change forecasts. That's partly because this map isn't about what will happen to us between now and 2050 or now and 2100.

    Rather it's about how the choices we make between now and 2050 or 2100 will lock in very different futures for our heirs, maybe several generations from now. Will New York be underwater? Will the Sacramento Valley once again be an inland sea? Or will we take action now and mitigate the worst possible outcomes?

    It's not easy to think about how choices we make now could mean the world to people living centuries from now.

    But that was our challenge for this project. And we needed to make that complex idea clear and compelling in an updated interface that works well on screens large and small. With deep content guidance from Ben Strauss and his team at Climate Central, we were able to focus on getting the designs and interactions just right.

    Along with the map that launched earlier this fall, Mapping Choices is the second in a series of new maps we've made for Climate Central. Stay tuned for for more this fall.

    Already, the work has gotten great notice in Wired. You can read the peer-reviewed science behind the map in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or get the lay person’s version from

    Try out the map and share what you find! there's a handy "download screenshot" button (the camera) and a full-featured embed as well.

    A few sobering comparisons:

    Sacramento: Once again an inland sea?


    Goodbye Boston Hahbah!


    Florida: Should Boca stay or go?

    Oct 6, 2015

    Toyota OnRamp 2015: Smart Mobility

    Here at Stamen we've been hard at work with the engineers and designers at Toyota on a new data visualization project, and we’re excited to start sharing the details.

    On Friday, November 13, we're helping to bring Toyota Onramp 2015 to San Francisco. Onramp will bring together great minds in Silicon Valley for a one-day, invitation-only event that will celebrate, explore and experience the future of driving and urban mobility. Innovators, investors and car enthusiasts will have the opportunity to test drive the Toyota i-Road, a sustainable three-wheel compact vehicle not yet available in the U.S., and the Mirai, a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle.

    A highlight of the event is the Smart Mobility Challenge, a contest open to the public that calls for innovators to help us think about how the Toyota i-Road can address urban planning and local sustainability needs in the Bay Area. Finalists will present their ideas to some of the Bay Area’s most notable thinkers on smart mobility, including Norwest Venture Partners’ Sergio Monsalve. The grand prize winner will win $15,000 and the opportunity to work with Toyota on the idea. At Stamen, we have been working closely with Toyota to analyze the data from an i-Road pilot run in Toyota City, and to visualize it so that contestants can better understand how the system could be rolled out in the Bay Area.

    We're also helping to manage the process by which the broader creative community participates in the Challenge; think Art + Data Day, but for cars. There's more information about Toyota Onramp 2015, including how to request to attend, at, and you can follow along on Twitter.

    Aug 31, 2015

    You Say Denali

    Mount McKinley, as of today, is now Denali. It's an important change, one that honors local indigenous names and draws attention to the very real threat of climate change impacting that part of the world, so we're glad to see President Obama stepping up to the challenge and calling attention to Alaska as a kind of climate change ground zero.

    I'm proud to announce that our own Alan McConchie gets the bragging rights for having made the change on OpenStreetMap:

    It's great to see community mapping respond so quickly to important events in the world., ahead of the big boys:

    Jun 18, 2015

    Announcing 2015 Creative Code Fellows

    by Beth

    After a very successful first year, the Creative Code Fellowships are back! We couldn’t be more pleased to welcome Joseph Burg, Jill Hubley, Lindsay Irving, Andrew Kleindolph, Elaine Laguerta, Steve Pepple, and Carlo Urmy to our studio for the summer.

    2015 fellows, from left: Lindsay Irving, Andrew Kleindolph, Jill Hubley, Carlo Urmy, Elaine Laguerta & Steve Pepple. Not shown: Joseph Burg

    The projects that these fellows will be doing cover a wide range of data sets and ideas, but a strong theme of working with environmental data seems clear. The results may be installations, maps, fabric, art, or something else. We can’t wait to see what they make!

    We’re also excited to be partnering with a wide range people this summer for these fellowships. Gray Area is providing space at the Grand Theater, as well as co-mentorship and a summer of creative coding classes. Britelite Immersive, Presence and Obscura Digital have offered financial support along with Stamen, and we have support through a variety of resource partners including the Exploratorium, UC Berkeley, Harvard, and SFMOMA.

    Welcome fellows!

    May 5, 2015

    Diving into ecosystem data with Berkeley's Ecoengine and interfaces from Stamen

    New Tools for Research with UC Berkeley

    Explore, Compare, Inspire!

    Most people know that the University of California at Berkeley is a world-class research university. Some folks have heard of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology. But not so many people know that the university houses seven natural history museums which together hold 12 million specimens that form the most complete representation of our state’s living and extinct plants and animals. Our new work with Cal is designed to help change that. The Ecoengine is a powerful resource for understanding changing ecosystems, more than ever a crucial challenge for our times.

    We’re thrilled to have built the main interfaces for searching and analyzing that data about those specimens, along with a whole lot more information that’s been brought together in a single database and API called the Berkeley Ecoinformatics Engine (also known as the Ecoengine).

    The Ecoengine API is already a remarkable resource for the most tech-savvy academics. Our job was to make it searchable by researchers and students who would rather use a web browser to discover data and test hypotheses than jump straight into the statistics package R or proprietary desktop GIS systems.

    The challenge, then, was to create interfaces that hide none of the complexity of the data — researchers want to see it all, no dumbing down! — but also that are intuitive to use and that produce findings that are easy to share.

    The Ecoengine has data from specimens collected around the world, though the collections are concentrated in California.


    With millions of data points across thousands of categories, Explore presented a challenge of designing a search interface that’s highly flexible, but also gets results quickly and is easy to learn.

    The facets along the left side, which are a key part of the underlying database, also give an immediate sense of the scope of the Ecoengine data and allow you to quickly drill into the data even if you’re not sure what to search for at the outset. In the screenshot above, in just a few clicks, we narrowed the scope down to just birds in California with known locations and physical specimens in the collection.

    At right, the default facets immediately tell you the scope of the available data: mostly in the United States, mostly in California, and predominantly animals.

    The search box at the top allows for very specific queries (like for a species name) and the timeline next to it lets you narrow your search to a slice of a few years.


    After we developed Explore, Charles Marshall (director of the Museum of Paleontology and one of the principal investigator on the Holos/Ecoengine project) challenged us to push further in our second phase.

    A common limitation of web-based biodiversity databases is that you’re limited to seeing one query at a time. Our charge from Charles was to “break the lock of single-taxa views of change.”

    So we designed an interface purpose-built for comparing diverse spatial datasets. It starts with either simple term queries of the Ecoengine entered directly in the Compare tool, or with more complex queries brought over from the Explore tool. These can include facet selections, time ranges and bounding box filters as well as search terms.

    Here’s an example comparing observations of western fence lizards and dusky-footed woodrats:

    That might seem like an obscure thing to search for! But by different indirect mechanisms, fence lizards help keep Lyme disease occurrence low. Woodrats increase occurrence. So this is a map with some direct interest for anyone concerned about Lyme disease.

    The interface is highly configurable, with drag-and-drop layers, custom labels, editable colors, and multiple basemap options. It includes boundaries (like state, county, ecoregion), our own Terrain layer, and the light and dark maps we designed for CartoDB:

    And every map configuration can be easily bookmarked and shared, since we write the queries and configurations into the stateful URL.


    The Explore and Compare interfaces needed to look at home on the website (and work within a larger production environment). Just as important, our work needed to lay the foundation for other developers to use the freely available API to build their own tools for use cases none of us at Stamen or at the University had previously considered.

    Making code open source is one thing (and we’ve done a lot of that). Making it easy to understand and reuse is another. and that’s even harder if the code then needs to work within a production CMS (in this case, Mezzanine).

    The solution here came about rather naturally: divide the load. So we have two production interfaces that can be built and deployed on the main Holos site, and then we have other versions and prototypes of many more interfaces that are right at home on Github Pages:

    Steal this code!

    The Explore and Compare interfaces also run just fine on Github Pages (see Explore and Compare). So fork and modify! But those are pretty complex, and we made many other prototypes along the way. We hope the examples below will inspire others to grab the code and try their hands at making their own ecovisualizations.

    Antarctic Chordata

    • A stress-test of loading all Chordata in a non-Mercator projection centered on Antarctica

    Arctic Chordata

    • The same as the previous, but centered on the North Pole

    Lizards and Woodrats

    • Spot spatially co-occurring observations by toggling layers

    Taxa Sampling Distributions

    • Example of small multiples to compare sampling distributions.

    • ColorBrewer palettes

    Woodrats over Decades

    • Example of small multiples to compare temporal distributions


    • Small multiples with search functionality (edit "quercus")

    • Split by search facet

    • Displays top 24 facets for a search


    • Simple photo-viewing app, accepts URLs in the same format as Explore

    Bulk Download

    • A tool for generating CSV text from a query

    • Downloads multiple pages of data. A limitation of the API is that results are always paginated, so loading all data for a query requires some work.


    • An early version of Explore with search box, time filter, pagination and export options

    • Could be a good starting place for new EcoEngine applications, since the app is only about 250 lines long and uses only d3.js

    Early version of Explore

    • An early version of explore with a preview of available photos and a "Detail" pane that lists out information about observations that are hovered over.


    • A simple "hello world" of accessing and printing EcoEngine data with d3

    • Lists an index of available sensors


    • A simple D3.js scatterplot showing observations by country over time.

    Parallel Coordinates

    • A D3.js parallel coordinates plot showing a sample of 2000 observations.

    The Berkeley Ecoinformatics Engine is funded by the W. M. Keck Foundation.

    Apr 27, 2015


    Cross-posted from

    Two days ago a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) sprang into action, coordinating mapping activities from remote mappers (read about how you can help) and working with open source mapping groups on the ground like Kathmandu Living Labs.

    One of the key components in any HOT activation is the humanitarian OSM style, hosted by OpenStreetMap France.

    Unfortunately, the humanitarian style doesn’t include terrain data, which would be very useful when mapping in remote mountainous areas such as the Himalayan foothills that make up the hardest-hit area in this recent earthquake.

    Using the SRTM 90m hillshade overlay that is the first outcome of our Open Terrain project, we created a composite style that adds hillshades to the existing humanitarian style. We’re calling this style humaniterrain.

    You can access the style at this URL:

    The XYZ template (for use in any online mapping library or GIS) looks like this: http://{s}{z}/{x}/{y}.png

    This is a very rough attempt to get something useful up and running as fast as possible. Let us know if you have any questions, via email at or on twitter at @stamen.

    Syndicate content