Future Of Real-Time: Context Cartography

Future Of Real-Time: Context Cartography

Through the union of data and location, multiple layers of real-time information can be displayed geographically, providing enhanced situational context.

Scott Lachut, PSFK Labs
  • 2 february 2011

Through the union of data and location, multiple layers of real-time information can be displayed geographically, providing enhanced situational context for ground crews and policy makers alike. Highly specific types of information can be especially useful on a large scale to help facilitate decision- making processes at the level of businesses, institutions and governments.


  • Information gives decision makers at an institutional level quick and accurate information.
  • Rapidly changing/evolving strategies can be geographically mapped and used to influence approachest to a response.
  • The union of data with place helps ensure that resources are being distributed equitably across a region and that they’re tracked while en route to a destination.
  • By understanding where an event or situation originated, response organizations are better equipped to manage or prevent similar events from occuring in the future.
  • Mapping the scale of distant events alongside familar environments promotes greater understanding through local context.
  • Knowing what is happening at any given time becomes more meaningful when this information is also linked to place.

Supporting Examples for Context Cartography

Global Health Based On Local Information
HealthMap brings together disparate data sources to achieve a unified and comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases and their effect on human and animal health. The website integrates outbreak data of varying reliability, ranging from news sources to curated personal accounts to validated official alerts. Through an automated text processing system, the data is aggregated by disease and displayed by location for user-friendly access to the original alert.

Creative Data Overlays On Interactive Maps
Polymaps is an open-source JavaScript library of controls that simplifies and standardizes the creation of interactive online maps. Created as a collaboration between Stamen Design and SimpleGeo, the goal of the project is to better support complex, large-scale data overlays. Polymaps can load data at a full range of scales, so it is ideal for showing information starting from a country level, and descending to states, cities, neighborhoods, and individual streets.

Visualizing Complex Social And Political Data
The Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University specializes in visualizing complex political and social data, such as incarceration rates and financial expenditures, to help re-envision the relationship between architecture, criminal justice, and community investment. The lab works with data about space— numeric data combined with narratives and images to design compelling visual presentations that link social data with geography. This helps researchers and advocates communi- cate information clearly, responsibly, and provocatively. By reorganizing data using visualization techniques, and locating it geographically, they attempt to correlate disparate items of information and open new spaces for action and options for intervention.

Shared Visual Experience For Disaster Response Teams
San Diego State University’s Immersive Visualization Center (Viz Lab) is a Navy-sponsored organization that produces geographic renderings for first responders around the globe. Using imagery collected by defense agencies and other types of government organizations, the Viz Lab is able to generate interactive maps depicting damaged locations, hospitals, refugee camps and other data rarely available to responders. These 3-D representations give command center employees more accurate and detail-rich images than 2-D maps afford, providing responders with an increased level of situ- ational awareness.

Putting Social Enterprise On The Map
iuMap is an online directory that interfaces with Google Maps. Culling together organizations as diverse as health, education, fair trade crafts, and water, the map’s goal is to centralize and codify the functions of these organizations in one, concrete hub. The map was created as a response to the lack of central- ized information, a place where one could find easily digestible and critical information to help the social enterprise com- munity learn from successes, failures and challenges, so that decisions can be made more easily, quickly, and cheaply.

Maps Created Around Major Events
Dimensions is an experimental prototype for the BBC that is designed to provide a human scale to events and places in history in terms that any person can understand and experi- ence. This is accomplished by overlaying the size of historical events, locations and objects onto satellite views of a person’s city or neighborhood Some of these “Dimensions” can be physically experienced as short, size-accurate walks, that allow individuals to get a first- hand point of view and appreciation of the distances involved.


Add your thoughts and ideas on Twitter and other social media networks using #ContextCartography

Watch the PSFK team present the report in New York in February on Feb 10 at Open UN – Engagement in the age of real-time and on Feb 18 at PSFK SALON at Soho House NY.

For your free download of this report please visit


Bicycle Hotel In Norway Makes Commuting A Breeze

Design & Architecture
Technology Yesterday

Umbrella Tells You Whether It's Needed Before You Go Out

Opus One was designed by former Samsung engineers and offers a weather forecast via the flashing LED on top

Sustainability Yesterday

Biocomposite Skateboard Provides An Eco-Friendly Ride

The Uitto is an eco-friendly skate deck crafted from Norwegian wood fibers


Get PSFK's Related Report: Sports Debrief

See All
Work Yesterday

Hyatt Honors Travelers With A 3D-Printed Statue Contest

The hospitality wanted to celebrate the people who go everywhere for work and make sure their tasks were not forgotten

Syndicated Yesterday

High-Tech Replica Brings Prehistoric Art Within Reach

A £48m recreation of the Lascaux Caves in France will let visitors experience the unique place for the first time in decades

Related Expert

Jonathan Ford

Brand, Product & Experience Design

Entertainment Yesterday

Tripod Lets You Make Snapchat Videos Hands-Free

The Camkix kit lets you record wirelessly from any angle

IoT Yesterday

GE Develops An Alexa-Enabled Table Lamp

The first in a line of interconnected home products will integrate Amazon's voice-activated system for smarter home living

Advertising Yesterday

Spotify Mines User Data To Create A Global Ad Campaign

The series of billboards relays the feelings that people express through listening to music


Future Of Retail 2017
Transformation Strategies For Customer-First Business

PSFK Op-Ed Yesterday

Commerce Expert: Why Brick-And-Mortar Shopping Can’t Be Replaced

Erin Armendinger, SVP of bio, explains the physical need of customers to experience certain products before buying

PSFK Labs december 1, 2016

Retail Spotlight: Home Depot Reimagines How Employees Conduct Tasks

The home improvement retailer puts the customer first by initiating local fulfillment centers and simplifying freight-to-shelf inventory management

Food Yesterday

What Material Research In Beirut Bodes For Our Waste Crisis

Might building furniture and lights out of rose petals and coffee grounds point to more sustainable modes of living, as seen in Beirut Design Week?

Social Media Yesterday

This Collar Wants To Be The Bridge Between Human-Dog Communication

Inupathy claims to be world's first dog emotion visualizer

Retail Yesterday

Basquiat-Inspired Fashion Line Supports Emerging Talent

The late artist's estate has collaborated with New York label alice+olivia on a new range of designs

Retail Yesterday

Why Personalization Is The Key To Customer Satisfaction

Andrew Blackmon of The Black Tux shares how the company is using machine-learning models to streamline the fitting process

Gaming & Play Yesterday

Fidgeting Tools Designed To Help Creative Minds Focus

The DIDGETS Collection helps those who have anxiety or are restlessly moving to focus while they are working


Conference Built Around Report Launch

Children Yesterday

Helpful Robot Teaches People Of All Ages How To Code

The Root has coding expertise designed to benefit a wide range of people

Home Yesterday

Sharing Service Connects Directors With Film Locations

Finding affordable places to film can be difficult, so GETset was designed to help creators easily find good locations

Technology Yesterday

Adobe Is Teaching Machines To Copy Your Artistic Style

A new research project called Stylit uses a camera to mimic a drawing and reproduce the strokes digitally

No search results found.