Indexical Design Conference

Indexical Design Conference

Symposium curated at Northeastern University.

Indexical Design addresses the difference between data and evidence. The symposium explores the physical trace and its role for making sense of the world. We will investigate the different scientific, aesthetic, and rhetoric techniques for making traces “speak.”

Information visualization is traditionally concerned with the symbolic languages of charts, maps, and diagrams. Its underlying data are also symbolic representations: the results of processes encoding traces and events. At the same time, traces such as tree rings, fingerprints, or ice core samples are also visualizations that we can directly experience.

Traces, like data, are often assumed as being “given,” but again, like data, they are revealed through measurement. How we perceive traces is a result of how we frame them. The symposium proposes “Indexical Design” as a new paradigm for data visualization that is specifically relevant for fields that deal with traces, markers, and indices; fields such as microbiology, forensics, or citizen science. We will bring together experts from these and other fields to investigate the physical manifestations of information and discuss the role of design in framing how these traces speak to us.

Slides from my opening remarks

Graphic design: Pedro Cruz, Tom Starr

Dep. Art+Design: Judy Ulman, Zohreh Firouzabadian, Chris Franson, Alison Kelly, Doug Scott, Ann McDonald, Kristian Kloeckl, Tom Starr, Nathan Felde
Northeastern Center for the Arts: Bree Edwards, Tom Vannatter, Terri Evans, Daniel Lim
Student volunteers: Aldo Viramontes, Armin Akhavan, Lia Petronio, Navarjun Grewal, Ryan Morrill, Andrew Tang, Kim McDevitt, Jinni Luo, Irene De La Torre, Jessie Richards, Maaria Assami
Special thanks to Mary Sherman

With generous support by
Goethe Institute: Christoph Mücher, Annette Klein
Swissnex: Cecile Vulliemin, Arthur Emery

Photo May 27, 3 47 43 PM

Conference program with built-in Cyanometer, a device for measuring the blueness of the sky. Designed by Pedro Cruz and Tom Starr

Excavating a 2002 piece – wegzeit

Excavating a 2002 piece – wegzeit

An old project, part of my thesis in architecture 2002: an early web-3d visualization project introducing different cartogram techniques and methods of urban time-space representation using real-time traffic information. Since the technology used then does no longer work (Virtools), I tried to salvage what still worked for the video.

“When you ask someone in Los Angeles how far it is from the beach to downtown, he or she will answer with the number of minutes it generally takes to traverse the distance rather than noting the number of miles. This system of defining and representing distance has recently been codified for use on the California Department of Transportation’s large LED “Freeway Condition” signs, which offer up-to-the-minute projections of estimated drive times: “8 minutes to downtown;” “22 minutes to 605 freeway,” and so on. Intrigued by the shift from the absolute units of distance traditionally used to describe space to the relative space of approximate drive times, Dietmar Offenhuber undertook an investigation of other examples in which data about the city is visualized in relative terms. The result of his work is Wegzeit, which uses six 3-D mapping paradigms – or cartograms – to visualize the city according to a range of conditions and interests.”

Feature in vectors online journal 2005
Link of the original 2002 project
pdf of thesis (in german)
Siggraph 2002 short paper

Urban entropy

Urban entropy

A project for the ars electronica facade, created during a residency at ars for the connecting cities conference and the soundframe festival. My explanation from a blog post:

My project is actually quite simple. On the LED façade, I display complaints received by the city, and thus visualize in the public sphere what people are complaining about. I find this fascinating because there are now many different systems that publish such complaints on a website. But I think it’s something completely different when they’re displayed right in the cityscape. The result is the development of a certain dynamism. People who submit a complaint are made cognizant of the fact that it’s then immediately visible by anyone in the cityscape. Here, I’m simply interested in these social dynamics that emerge between individual citizens and the municipal administration. But I find it very interesting on the aesthetic side too, since the city is actually always in motion and never in a perfect state of equilibrium. There’s never a time when everything has been cleaned up, maintained or repaired, and there’s actually no prospect that this will ever be the case. This state of imperfection goes on and on, ad infinitum.

Sorting Out Cities

Sorting Out Cities

Piece for the Geo-Cosmos display at Miraikan – the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Tokyo.

Dietmar Offenhuber & Ars Electronica Futurelab – Roland Haring, Peter Holzkorn, Andreas Jalsovec , Michael Mayr, Nicolas Naveau, Emiko Ogawa

Although cities cover only a small fraction of the earth, they have a tremendous impact on the world. This theme explores how cities relate to the rest of the world in terms of the space they occupy, the people they shelter, the resources they use, the global movements they facilitate and are subjected to. The exhibit uses an unique approach to visualize topics such as land-use and urban extent, rural and urban population, water availability and consumption, global accessibility and migration. By literally sorting out the complex spatial relationships between cities and the world, global connections, trends, and inequalities become directly observable.

“As I see it, a key aspect of the city of the future is informality. Of the world’s 20 largest cities in 2030, only one will be in Europe and two in North America. The rest will be in what used to be referred to as developing countries (though that hasn’t been accurate for a long time now). However, these megacities are to a great extent characterized by informal economies and infrastructures. Technology plays a role here as well. The smartphone, for example, makes formal processes more informal; as a result, many structures break down. At the same time, it makes informal processes more formal, since, for example, every movement and every conversation via smartphone leaves behind traces. The city of the future will be more chaotic and more dynamic, but most certainly not the way these are portrayed in clinical science fiction and smart city visions.”

Data sources:
Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), University of Wisconsin-Madison, Center for International Earth Science Information Network – CIESIN – Columbia University, International Food Policy Research Institute – IFPRI, the World Bank, Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, Deutscher Wetterdienst, the Water Footprint Network, Global Environment Monitoring Unit – Joint Research Center (JRC), Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division

The storyboard

An interview at the Ars Electronica Site in German and English

Raw format of the animation as fed to the globe, equi-rectangular projection

Triplanar projection

A video of the globe (courtesy Miraikan Museum)

The globe in the museum (courtesy Miraikan Museum)


What do New Yorkers complain about?

What do New Yorkers complain about?

Currently I am working on a comparative study of the design factors of citizen feedback systems based on the data they generate. The recent history of these systems is a tale of growing ambition. In the past decade, most large US cities have implemented non-emergency incident reporting systems via telephone helplines, websites, and recently mobile applications. During that time, 311 systems, named after the three-digit telephone number reserved for that purpose, have evolved from service hotlines to public accountability instruments, data sources for urban maintenance and tools for civic engagement.

A small visualization of the New York 311 data that I did past September, keeps surfacing on different blogs. The city of NY publishes all community requests; around 2 Million for the past two years, covering over 100 types of incidents ranging from code violations on construction sites to plumbing issues in public housing projects.
From among the top 15 categories, I selected complaints about noise, litter and graffiti – urban issues that everyone can relate to. They were similar in terms of number of complaints, but very distinct in terms of their spatial patterns.

I used the RGB channels for each respective category, creating a composite that allows a comparison of all three parameters at the same time. Showing more than two parameters is usually very difficult in thematic maps. This strategy creates a surprisingly salient spatial pattern. It seems that Manhattan complains more about noise, the Bronx more about graffiti, and Staten Island more about litter.

The Observer – Shhhh! We’re Gentrifying Here: Mapping the City’s 311 Complaints Oct 4, 2012
The Atlantic Wire – What are New Yorkers complaining about now Oct 5, 2012
Gothamist – New Map Shows Us What New Yorkers Are Bitching About Now Oct 4, 2012
Curbed – A Colorful Kaleidoscope of New Yorkers’ Complaints Oct 4, 2012
Atlantic Cities – Map of the Day: New York’s Geography of Complaining Oct 02, 2012
The City Atlas – Sweet dissatisfaction: using map art to understand NYC’s most common complaints Oct 5, 2012
Animal New York – Beautiful Map of New York City’s 311 Complaints Oct 4, 2012
L Magazine – New Map Shows Neighborhood Gentrification Based On Noise Complaint Frequency Oct 5, 2012
Io9 / Gawker – An interactive map of what New Yorkers complain about, by borough Feb 4, 2013 Feb 3, 2013
Neatorama – What Do New Yorkers Complain About? Feb 4, 2013

Hosted at Oct 1, 2012


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