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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

Jun 17, 2011 is live is officially live with some new features and swanky new cartography.

Cross-posted on PBS Idea Lab

The project has been in a partially-completed stage for a few months now, and I've blogged about the project before. We've got a few new things to announce:

  • The url is now; no more of this stamen subdomain stuff
  • The cartography is completely revised, with a severe black-and-white style we're calling toner, in a gentle nod to the halftone process that newspapers use (the project's funded by the Knight News Challenge after all). We've intentionally stripped back the level of detail at most zoom levels in favor of a style that lets the dots on top shine through, while hopefully remaining legible enough for lots of uses.
  • We've torn the guts out of the uploading process, which was giving us no end of heartache, and rebuilt it from scratch. It turns out, much to my chagrin (and having been told this ad nauseum by various people at Stamen) that geocoding of is hard, dude and best left to the professionals. Another, less gentle way of saying this is that we've switched over from Yahoo's absolutely rassa-frassin' useless geocoding service and started using Google's amazing service, and so.
  • We've also moved from a model where all of this was happening server-side, which is how we orignally had hoped things could work, to one where the process is split into two, distinct processes: first, we check to see what kind of data you're trying to submit, second, we try and turn it into geographically relevant data, and third, we run it through google's geocoder. My advice to anyone who is embarking on this kind of venture in future is simple: do not try and do this stuff server side unless you want to make it the core of your business. You will go down an endless rabbit hole and it will take you months to come out.
  • We've changed the way we think about geocoding, after taking some hard knocks. Rather than trying to accommodate a kind of abstract geographic information space of addresses and file formats and latitudes and longitudes, we've decided to pick a few, representative set of data formats that are pegged to specific examples of data out in the real world, make it work for those, point people at those formats, and work backwards from there. All of the files that dotspotting can handle are now in a folder for people to browse, and the FAQ has specific examples of how to work with these files. I hadn't fully understood the complexities involved in geocoding different data formats, and that's meant that we had to hold things up for much longer than they needed to be. Mea culpa.
  • But it's live now, and we're working with a few different groups to make it even better, in the spirit of using real data to solve real problems. Onwards!

Jun 14, 2011

We're hiring an operations and finance director

(please note: this position has been filled)

Stamen Design is an internationally-recognized leader in the design of mapping and data visualization projects, located in San Francisco's Mission District. We are engaged in an active process of growing our capacity and are looking to hire an Operations and Finance Director who can help the studio develop a thriving and sustainable model for growth, while maintaining the unique and innovative culture that has defined Stamen since 2001. We are always growing in one way or another, and we need a level head and a battle-seasoned operator to manage the operations side of our business so we can continue to deliver outstanding work for our clients.

Requirements and experience:

  • Capacity to future-think, while maintaining the ability to operate in the present. This is a big thinking, set strategy kind of job. It's also a get down and dirty, call the client who hasn't paid their bill, fill out the Google Spreadsheet, and figure out why the bank password isn't working kind of job. We'll need you to design and own the processes you need to do great work.
  • Prior experience in helping a service organization facilitate its way through growing pains while helping to hold the vision of where it is going as an organization. We are 12 people now and we need someone who understands what it means to be here. We want you to know enough about organizations like ours to be able to have an opinion about what we do.
  • Ability to not only deliver at the operational level, but have the foresight to ask questions about what you see, in order to enable the studio to achieve its goals.
  • A systems-driven hybrid who can relate to the operations of Stamen with phenomenal integrity for the people who work here. Attention to detail is essential for this job.
  • Experience in how to leverage existing capacity within an organization and turn it into what we need to deliver on the other side.
  • Possess a natural people sense, and understand how to translate the operational and financial to people.

Key responsibilities include the following:

  • Financial planning and reporting, including monitoring and budgeting project revenues, costs and cash flows
  • Accounts payable and accounts receivable
  • Work closely with project managers to ensure scheduling and timely completion of all deliverables
  • HR and staff-related activities
  • Marketing and communications oversight
  • Development of metrics to measure organizational and financial goals
  • Design of feedback loops necessary to achieve team happiness and organizational effectiveness
  • Proactively identify places that are problems, and proactive presentation of these issues. Manage the CEO's needs for reporting on all operations and finance-related aspects of the business


  • 5-10 years of operations and finance experience. An MBA would be nice but experience will count for more
  • A deep interest and passion in design and technology
  • Excellent writing and presentation ability, and critical thinking skills
  • Proven ability to plan and execute resourcefully, with minimal supervision, and to work effectively in a fast-paced, dynamic environment
  • Ability to thrive in a collaborative problem-solving environment while also working independently, juggling multiple priorities and deadlines, and accomplishing tasks on time
  • Exemplary interpersonal skills


  • $ commensurate with experience.
  • Stamen pays full health and vision and dental for all our employees.
  • If this sounds like you, and you'd like to work with a group of interesting and interested people who are serious about what they do and how much fun they have doing it, please send your resume and a bit about you to No phone calls please

    Jun 3, 2011

    MTC Travel Time maps are live

    The OneBayArea Travel Map that we worked on with the good people at MIG, Inc is live at, and shows you approximately how far you can get from any point in the Bay Area by car, public transit, bike, or on foot, at particular times of the day. You can filter your view by the travel time between areas, and the median price of homes in each area.


    Here's where you can get from Stamen in the morning, by public transit (Muni and BART), within 30 minutes (all of these images link out to the right configuration of the maps btw):


    Your range is limited much further in the evening:


    It turns out that you can get a lot further by bike. Note how the time of day doesn't matter here because bikes aren't limited by transit schedules or traffic congestion:


    Let's say, though, that you were in the market for a home and wanted to know where you could buy that you could get to work by bike in a half an hour. Filtering out areas with homes averaging $500,000 or less cuts out a large swath of San Francisco:


    If you're okay with a 45-minute bike ride, though, there may be a place for you a bit further down the peninsula:



    What if you're Mike, though, and you live in the East Bay? Here's where he can get by public transit in 30 minutes in the morning. Note how BART can get him to the Embarcadero or San Leandro more quickly than most of the areas between there and downtown Oakland:


    If we crank up the travel time to 45 minutes, most of downtown San Francisco and the Mission become accessible:


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