Jan 18, 2012
This last year was a busy one at the studio; good and full, but often busy enough that we were moving too fast to talk about what we did. Which is a shame, because I'm proud of all of it. Having spent the last week or so getting the screenshots together (and doing a few other things as well), I'm finally in a position to actually look at all of it in one place and gather some thoughts. As the number of projects we get involved with grows, it's getting harder to keep a handle on things! But lots of fun.
2011 was the year data visualization and custom mapping moved firmly into the mainstream of digital design work, and our client roster at least partially reflects this trend. We also saw two major museums recognize this kind of work, signaling a growing understanding that this work is moving from the realms of research into genre. Open source projects continued to be a major source of interest and value for our projects, client-facing and otherwise. And we took two first quiet steps into product design based on open data, both directly supporting the efforts of the mapping volunteers at Open Street Map, whose efforts are increasingly being seen as a reliable alternative to propietary geographic solutions. This kind of effort, where we can do good and earn money at the same time, is core to the studio's practice and I'm delighted to be able to still be in a position to support it, ten years on.
So without further ado, this is what we've been up to:
Oprah Winfrey Network: Oprah's Life Class
We designed and built an [interactive companion] to Oprah's return to network television, [Oprah's Life Class]. Class participants used Twitter to post answers to class questions, Oprah favorited the answers she liked the best, a live map showed participants the global nature of the event they were participating in, and Oprah used the piece during a series of live webcasts following the show.
FCC: Broadband Map of the US
[Broadbandmap.gov] collects internet connection data across the US. Funded by the FCC, the project lets viewers compare [connection type], [actual speeds versus those advertised], [availability compared to demographics], and other aspects of their broadband coverage. Working as a subcontractor to Computech, Inc. of Bethesda Maryland, we developed two of the maps found in the map gallery on the National Broadband Map website.
MapQuest: Map Equals Yes
We started off with Foodspotting data; investigating where people had posted food reviews. The project took a brief detour into replacing the names of places with the names of the most popular foods in those places—so "The Mission" became "Secret Breakfast Ice," and that was fun. Not every restaurant (or even city) has reviews, though and we started angling more towards images that showed where the data was instead of what the data was.
This turned into an interesting problem in its own right, and we ended up with maps of [where the buildings are, and only where the buildings are]. MapQuest's support of the OSM's XAPI makes it possible for others to do similar kinds of things with free public data, and the code for the project is open source and [freely available].
Paranormal Activity 3
A map and visualization letting people use Twitter to vote for which city they wanted Paranormal Activity 3 to be released early in. This was a whirlwind project with about a week from initial call to successful delivery, and one where all the [open source work we do] came in super handy. We designed a custom cartographic set (known as "spookymaps" in the studio), Houston took the prize for the highest number of tweets, and in the end PA3 turned out to be the top selling movie of the year.
Trip Advisor iPhone and Android Cartography
We developed artography designed specifically for Trip Advisors' apps for mobile devices, whose small size and high screen resolutions provide their own opportunities and challenges. These maps are themed to work with Trip Advisor branding & styling, and the typography reflects the neighborhood-by-neighborhood focus of their apps. The apps are available to [download from iTunes]
Live web analytics provider [MixPanel] asked us to provide visual design direction and implementation for a new product, User Activity Streams or Streams for short.
A set of maps for Airbnb.com, showing the explosive growth of the service since it started in 2008. Darker city blocks have less listings, brighter blocks have more. It's amazing to see how quickly some areas fill in as more and more people discover they can list their apartments—and to see which areas stay dark.
[Walking Papers] saw continued use by the OSM community and was featured in two museum exhibitions this year: [Hyperlinks], at the [Art Institute of Chicago] and [Talk To Me] at [MoMA in New York]. We started working to extend the project for use in disaster relief scenarios (part of Mike's ongoing [Camp Roberts] adventures); more about this in the coming months.
Our first [iPad app], for National Geographic; an [interactive globe] of the world draped with NGS' iconic cartography; designed with the help of longtime Stamen collaborator [Ryan Alexander] (whose amazing [stereographic streetview] is lighting up the internets lately); one big wet sloppy kiss from Stamen to National Geographic's cartographers.
Knight News Challenge: CityTracking
The CItyTracking project is in mid-swing, with http://dotspotting.org seeing active use. This year we're going to pull the pieces together that we originally [started the project with]: Walking Papers v2, Crimespotting v2 (in particular tying Dotspotting to Crimespotting), Tile Farm (which is already live in [stealth mode] and has some [new tiles available on Mike's blog]), and continuing work on Dotspotting. Everything's [available for download on GitHub], and we gathered 40 planners and visualizers at the inaugural [Data Visualization and Cities] conference.
We covered three live awards show with MTV in 2011: the [Video Music Awards] and [Spike Awards] in Los Angeles, and the [European Music Awards] in Belfast. Some of the visualizations were straight up tweet volume trackers, others mapped celebrity tweets to where they were sitting in the venue, and others tracked interest in photographs of things like Beyonce's baby bump. Unfortunately, Rachel only [met David Hasselhof] at one of the shows, so we're going to try and work on fixing that in the coming year.
Video Music Awards, August
European Music Awards, November
Spike Awards, December
California Healthcare Foundation
We designed two maps for the [California Health Care Foundation], a group that works to improve access to health care information in the state. The first, [All Over the Map], tracks the relative rates of elective procedures like [heart surgery] and [knee replacements], and the second tracks the rates of [surgical site infections] across the state. We're continuing to explore the possibilities of custom cartography with this work; the size of town names, for example, are sized not by how large they are but by [how much surgery is happening there].
A custom [cartographic and interactive suite] for Dutch broadcasting heavies [VPRO] (sort of a cross between Channel 4 in the UK and PBS in the US), to accompany the [Nederland van Boven] TV broadcast this year. The background maps are loosely based on the [toner cartography] we developed for the Knight News Challenge, with some snazzy additions (when did you ever see all-lowercase labels?) and icons as part of our continuing contribution to Nate Kelso's [Natural Earth project].
The Museum of Modern Art: Talk To Me
We designed and built the [online interactive bit] of the full-bore art and culture extravaganza that was the MoMA's [Talk To Me] show. Two Stamen projects, [Walking Papers] and [Prettymaps], were [ http://content.stamen.com/photos_from_the_moma_show part of] [the exhibition].
A data visualization for [One.org], tracking the G8 and EU's spending commitments to Africa. The site represents each member country as a [flag-filled circle], sized according to the relative size of that country's contribution.
Transit Maps for MIG
[Mondo Window], a site for in-flight wifi-enabled travelers, lets you look out the window of a plane and know what you're seeing on the ground. The site has been growing and changing since we helped launch it in April and was written up in the [New York Times] earlier this year.
PrettyMaps on 20x200
Last year's prettymaps project saw a different kind of distribution than is usual for us: you can order physical prints of several of the maps on Jen Bekman's fabulous 20x200.com. The prints are sized according to price, making art affordable for almost everyone. The project benefits the Open Street Map community too; all profits are used to support the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.
SoftCities: Custom Map Textiles
Our second foray into product design in 2011 took a more, well, tailored turn: SoftCities pulls open data together with fashion design and lets people buy blankets and napkins based on Open Street Map data. The most exciting part about all of this to me (aside from a percentage of the profits going to the Open Street Map project, and that I get to work with my wife Nikki Gunn on a project) is that people are now contributing to OSM specifically to have those roads and stores show up on tangible objects that they can see and hold.
All right, that's enough of that. Happy 2012, everybody!