Week 6 Workshop Challenge: The Sunny Side of the Street

Exploring the idea of recording our surroundings I was influenced by the situationists’ maps. I knew this was something I wanted to show in my workshop challenge piece. I started by thinking about the idea of looking at infographics, augmented reality and video overlays, the likes of which are now used for way-finding and even gaming. Google Maps has used satellite imagery and their famous google camera vehicles to provide interactive maps for years now. These paired with overlays have become the go-to for location finding.
The game, Pokemon Go takes the idea of map data and generates augmented gaming experiences for users. I wondered if I could use the idea of repetetive video to capture new information that could be displayed as infographic overlays.

On reflection and as well pointed out on this week’s ideas board, without sufficient technology, overlaying video takes would create a really shaky and uneven experience. So I decided to go back to the drawing board. I was however still entranced by the idea of data capture as the hidden element I’d find in my street of choice. Could a closer analysis of the street provide unexpected data?

I decided to speak to a friend of mine (Aaron Grove) who works as a data analyst and has experience with taking data and extracting unexpected findings. As both of us have an interest in audio, we quickly found a conversation about the sounds of a street.

Being much more functional about design, I was insistent that the piece had some usable merit; design without function is just… art, and I have no intention of dabbling into the world of art! I wanted to explore the idea of using data to create a new map so I set off on a walk to find somewhere near to home full of untapped data. In steps Southside Street, Plymouth.

Southside Street on Plymouth’s Barbican has thousands and thousands of visitors a week. I thought it would be interesting to analyse the words those visitors see as they walk from the top of the bottom of the street. Could I find out whether the left or the right side of the street have different words or different ideas that those tourists see. How could I present this?
Armed with a voice recorder, I walked the 4 mins down the left side of the street, reading out loud every word that I took in as I saw it. This would mean missing some (if not most) of the words, some would be too small, some would be hidden behind things, some wouldn’t be legible in the time it takes to walk. But I was interested in what jumps out, the words we are mostly noticing.
I repeated the process for the the right-hand side of the street.

From here, I painstakingly typed out each word (yes I know audio capture exists…) and started analysing the text and re-organising it.

I started moving these words into Indesign to create a layout from them. Opting for Helvetica typeface in grey for it’s utilitarian feel I began to organise the words to create a new meaning.
I looked at the work of Joseph Muller Brockmann (good lad) in particular his ability to strip the associated emotion and surrounding from his concert posters and portray the information in a way that is still engaging.

Using sizes as Hierarchy, I set rules (double the point size) for the frequency of words used:
Single word = 10pt
Two uses = 12pt
Three uses = 14pt
Four uses = 18pt
The exception of this rule was to set common words “the” or “a” “and” to smaller format (8pt / 6pt)

What I found particularly fascinating about this approach was that in using the simple data of word frequency, the function of a map became quickly apparent again.
From a simple glance at word use, you can quickly learn that this street is in the Barbican area of Plymouth. You can quickly learn it is by the sea or has seafood available (both very true) due to the use of the word Fish. You could determine that the left-side of the street has less going on (again true) with more housing (again, still true!) Though if you’re looking for a pasty, it seems the left side of the street is where to be.

In this way, the function of a map has returned to this piece which I found really fascinating.

I followed this by creating a word frequency cloud using a website called “tag cloud”

I formatted this to create a more visually appealing design sticking to my grey theme.
I continued to format this layout using other ideas to visualise the exact words as captured and in a linear path as per the walk. I built a front-cover for the book using transparent paths within Indesign and a repeating pattern of the words from both sides of the street.

I continued to explore the theme with conversations about data analysis with my friend. He showed me how a scripting language “Python” could be used to create commands for graphs and charts and word arrangement. Using code he helped me to create graphs that show the “journey” of word frequency as it moves and how the two sides of the street correspond to each other.

Furthering on from this, we looked at how Ai computer learning could load banks of dictionary data around verbs, nouns, adjectives etc and re-construct text to create new sentences automatically.

I really like the way that this book and pages of “maps” is progressing and is something I intend to explore further!