Driving at 70 miles per hour, the landscape dissolves into colors and concepts. Impressions coalesce into ideas, particles into patterns. It may seem like a paradox, but the faster we go, the clearer we can see. At high speeds, we can tune out the noise and see the forest for the trees. Our focus is on the destination.

At 30 miles per hour, the landscape resolves into discrete objects. We can now make out individual trees, buildings, the faces of drivers and pedestrians. Below 15 miles per hour, finally, we start to perceive a sense of place. We can make out the details of the objects around us, including their textures and physical properties. Any destination seems far more distant now.

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City archetypes

Composite map of Boston (Kevin Lynch)

Composite map of Boston (Kevin Lynch. Source:

When Kevin Lynch conducted the research for a project called The Perceptual Form of the City, providing much of the material for his seminal work The Image of the City, he asked study participants to draw their mental models of the cities they lived in. Lynch then created composite maps generated from multiple drawings, resulting an archetypal, aggregate mental map of the city. He was able to identify five shared characteristics of the mental image people form of their environments: paths, nodes, districts, edges, and landmarks. While the individual interpretation of these five elements may vary, they form the vocabulary of what he called the imageable city.

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Data visualization as interface / 2 comments

A recent rereading of Wired’s 2010 article “The Web is Dead” cemented a few thoughts of mine on where design in the online space might be headed. The article claims that our use of the web, meaning content delivered via the http protocol, is being eroded by apps—light-weight, low-cost, task-oriented programs. The article describes this as an effect of the natural progression of technology: as special interests start to take control of a new market it becomes fractured, producing silos that in turn allow more user friendly experiences and drive greater adoption.

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With the proliferation of social networks we are already experiencing a new kind of city, a city augmented with location-sensitive information. While location in the past was largely an economic factor, many of the traditional reasons for geographic specialization have been erased due to the effects of technology. As a result, location is taking on new meanings, and the city is increasingly re-configuring itself as a vessel for the growing, interconnected and constantly changing social networks that form the basis of the contemporary urban experience.

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Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities is now in beta. The project has evolved from a visualization of collective memory for Taipei to a platform with the capability of surfacing data from the Twitter and Flickr services for any geographic area. While initially we have kept the piece focused on New York City due to the density of available data, we are planning to extend it with other cities as the project progresses. For documentation, please refer to the project site, as well as our recent article in the Volume 3, Issue 1 of the Parsons Journal for Information Mapping (Invisible Cities: Representing Social Networks in an Urban Context).

Many thanks to my collaborator Liangjie Xia for his tireless dedication and remarkable talent, and also to Jason Hsu for the inspiring discourse in the early phases of this project.