Random Etc. Notes to self. Work, play, and the rest.

Accidental Visual Resonance

In my post about the good people at Yahoo's design research group in September I suggested that some of their visualisations remind me of the movie War Games. I love the movie, but I continue to think that certain kinds of accidental visual resonance should be avoided. The 'incoming' visualisations by the good people at Dopplr have this problem too.

Oakland Fires

Today, Mike sent me the above image that Gem ffffound showing the devastation caused by the Oakland Hills firestorm in 1991. It's shocking, stunning and scary all at once to see so many homes ablaze like that. Mike pointed out that it looks like some of the work from our Trulia Hindsight project at Stamen.

Thankfully I think Mike was referring to the early prototypes I made in Processing using additive blending and a red-through-blue colour range. I've uploaded a movie of one of these prototypes to Vimeo so you can get an idea of what we're talking about:

San Francisco Property Prices, Animated from Stamen on Vimeo.

The fact that certain parts of the movie looked like San Francisco was burning, or being bombed, was definitely a problem we had to avoid for the final piece. It's something I wouldn't want to be thinking about addicentally if I was trying to find out about real-estate in the area. What we want is to make something that can illustrate the effects of real devastation if we want it to, without emotionally swindling you if you just want to think about urban growth. That's why we knocked out the red and orange hues in the colour range, added a drop shadow and ditched the additive blending. Ultimately, it was more appropriate to show data on the map than in the map.

Oakland Building Activity

So, if you want to you can look up some of the areas of Oakland affected by the fires in 1991, such as this example, and spot the clear rebuilding activity in 1992. With luck, the animation will illustrate some of the devastation caused by the fires, without looking like a simulated disaster.


This reminds me of the map entitled’The Jew in London’ - http://www.movinghere.org.uk/search/catalogue.asp?sequence=5&resourcetypeID=2&recordID=56004

Which I think was used to show that the Jewish population was overrunning the east end of London, but in fact the red areas have a very low population.

Posted by Erin Staniland on 17 December 2007 @ 11pm

[...] Random Etc. : Blog Archive : Accidental Visual Resonance “What we want is to make something that can illustrate the effects of real devastation if we want it to, without emotionally swindling you if you just want to think about urban growth.” (tags: data information visualization resonance) [...]

Posted by links for 2007-12-18 (Leapfroglog) on 18 December 2007 @ 7am

Interesting, thanks! The link didn’t work for me, but I found a small version of the map here: http://www.untoldlondon.org.uk/news/ART42807.html

Posted by TomC on 18 December 2007 @ 7am

[...] Wireless WiFi Location Positioning Service. The timing of these things was pretty perfect with Tom Carden’s thoughful post about avoiding potentially bad cases of accidental visual resonance. These sketches are probably [...]

Posted by hauntedcastle.org » Blog Archive » Speaking of War Games on 20 December 2007 @ 3am

[...] like this NASA image of fires in the Oakland hills, from 1991. I’ve been calling this accidental visual resonance, and it’s something I picked on Yahoo’s now-defunct Design Innovation team about a few months [...]

Posted by Random Etc. - Visualizing Urban Data: A Journey Through Oakland Crimespotting on 7 May 2008 @ 8pm