“Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta...”
—William Gibson, Neuromancer
Maps are only one way to look at large amounts of data, and not always the best. Stamen actively pursues strategies to display, understand and navigate through rich and varied flows of information. These "objects to think with" allow for discovery and a kind of perception that allows your eyes to understand immediately what words may fail to tell you.
NBC Olympics, Vancouver 2011
Track the number of mentions of “Osama bin Laden” over time on Google News. Over a period of a few months, it looks like a sine wave. He’s absent from the news for a few days, then mentioned more and more, and then this subsides again. It looks like a chart of the phases of the moon. Do the same for “Saddam Hussein,” a different pattern emerges.
Draw a line on a map showing the path of a single taxicab in San Francisco over the course of an hour. Make it red when the cab is going fast, and white when it’s going slow. Do this for every taxi in the city. Do this at a one-minute interval over the course of a day and make a movie out of it. The city ebbs and pulses like the beating of a heart.
There’s something compelling in all of this. It’s not quite honesty—you can lie with charts and graphs as easily as with words or pictures. It’s not quite accidental discovery—this is pretty technical stuff, and deliberate choices are made at every step along the way. But there’s a quality to these generated pictures of information that’s seductive and fascinating and tends toward a delicate beauty.
There is magic in setting up a system that tracks the similarities and the differences between things, letting it run, and seeing what comes out the other end. Digital material, like clay on a potter’s wheel. It responds to the hand. It flows.
We look for this quality in our work.