Ambient Data Displays


This project explores what glanceable data displays might look like in the city. The final results consist of three different sites around the Atlanta Beltline where three different data points are displayed. 

<Project for CS 8803 - Smart Cities and Applications - Georgia Tech - Professor: Ellen Zegura>


Project Inspiration 

Inspiration for this project comes from a few areas:

  1. Atlanta is focusing efforts on becoming a smart city and planning on installing sensor nodes around streets and intersections. What will be done with the data is yet to be determined. What are some things that might be done with the data? 
  2. Many smart city efforts are focused on mobile apps and services, or on data dashboards to improve government operations. Less work is done for interpreting and displaying data to residents in the city, and the work that is done is primarily desktop-based. How might data be displayed off the computer for residents to view? 
  3. Some physical installations have been created in cities around the world to display various data. These all require unique work specific to the location. What could be done with data that is (easily) reproducible in multiple locations? 

Below are three specific projects I found of physical locations or objects in a city displaying data. These are part of the third area. 


Living Light // Seoul

"Living Light is a building facade of the future that displays air quality and public interest in the environment. It is a permanent outdoor pavilion in Peace Park, across from the World Cup Stadium in Seoul, Korea."



LA Interchange // Los Angeles

" the heart of downtown Los Angeles, the LA Interchange memorial takes the form of an illuminated water fountain that uses real-time accident affect the intensity of the fountain's stream and colored light..."


E-TOWER // Toronto

"E-TOWER invited participants of Nuit Blanche to increase the "energy" of Toronto's CN Tower by sending it a text message. Every text added a bit of energy to the Tower's lights, making them pulse faster and glow brighter."

Project Goals

Based on the inspiration questions, I generated 3 project goals: 

  1. Explore displays of various size. For example, an entire building versus a door. 
  2. Focus on data that could be generated from a sensor. 
  3. Design for reproduction of display in other places. 

I loosely followed the goals throughout the process, allowing people's interests to take priority. 

Brainstorm Session 1

I started my design process by leading a design brainstorm session with the class - consisting of graduate students with mostly technical backgrounds. Using photos I took from an exploration session around Ponce City Market and the Atlanta Beltline, we spent 30 seconds to a minute on each photo to generate what data people might be interested in seeing in the presented environment.  

A Sampling of the Results

"Letters light up", "How busy", "How many people", "Wait time in restaurants", "Uber pickup/dropoff spots", "Lights on bridge", "Events", "Weather in the future", "If it will rain", "Air quality", "Event advertisement", "Display safety", "Mood of people in city", "Water usage", "Bacteria levels"....

Designs for Three Locations

Based first on the brainstorm and then the project goals, I chose three locations and three data points to experiment with. 

Location: Ponce City Market letters  Data: Number of people inside retail areas

Location: Ponce City Market letters

Data: Number of people inside retail areas

Location: Leaf sculptures along the Beltline  Data: Weather or crime

Location: Leaf sculptures along the Beltline

Data: Weather or crime

Location: Bridge over Beltline  Data: Crime or weather

Location: Bridge over Beltline

Data: Crime or weather

Brainstorm Session 2

After selecting the locations and data points, I printed out the photos of each area. Using trace paper, I extracted the elements that I wanted to focus my designs on. I then scanned the trace paper with the focused elements, arranged them to be like a coloring sheet, and printed them again. For each, I generated a set of ideas through sketching. As a step in between brainstorm sketching and the final designs, I placed the sketches on top of the images to get a quick idea of how it might look. 

Final Designs


Revisiting my three goals, it's clear I didn't follow them 100%, however in this case it was appropriate and resulted in interesting reflections. 

  1. Explore displays of various size. For example, an entire building versus a door. // The large PCM letters, the bridge, and the leaf sculptures varied somewhat in size. However, it would be interesting to explore an area even smaller. 
  2. Focus on data that could be generated from a sensor.  // A sensor in a "box" could determine the amount of people inside Ponce City Market, but Wifi data might also be able to do this. The leaf sculptures displaying crime would be based on an existing crime dataset, not a sensor. The weather would be based on a typical weather forecast. I veered from this goal based on the brainstorm results - what people found interesting is not necessarily found through sensors. 
  3. Design for reproduction of display in other places. // Some of these designs might be relatively reproducible - the weather could be displayed on any bridge over a pedestrian pathway, the PCM letter design could be adapted to other signs, and the crime data could be integrated elsewhere. However, these would all still require specific work to the individual sites. If it were to be an out-of-box product for city data display, it would likely end up looking like other standard, unappealing displays such as the signs over the interstate. This calls for more specific exploration. 

Other considerations include: 

  • Unintended consequences. It's likely any business or residential area would not want to advertise crime that happens in the area. Additionally, the weather display works over a pedestrian bridge, but for a road bridge, it might cause confusion among drivers. And as always, the unknown unknowns. 
  • Relationships and infrastructure that would need to exist and take part in the design and installation. Between the building manager/owner, technologists, designers, managers of data, city maintenance workers, maintenance protocols, etc. 
  • Developing design language or design standards for ambient data displays in a physical city environment. How unique to each city should they be? Should each city create their own? By state? Country? What would it look like?