Case Study: Baltimore Signs Project

A case study by Anthony Bushong.


In July of 2012, the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA created the Knowledge Design Studio, a project that would attempt to create a schema for documenting, analyzing and visualizing the spatial and emotional influence of signage in Downtown Baltimore. Gathering three graduate students and four undergraduate students, Professor Johanna Drucker headed this project to present at a workshop in Baltimore in September of 2012. At this workshop, Professor Drucker would give a talk about signage in modern urban spaces, and then send out the artists into Downtown Baltimore to document the affect and effect of signs that they saw, capturing a photograph as well as populating metadata about the sign. The Knowledge Design Studio would then take this data to create a telling visualization.



In order to come up with a metadata scheme, the KDS team first came up with 27 total fields that would document every affect and effect of the sign, labeling 10 fields as Primary fields that needed to be documented on-site, with 17 Secondary fields that could be populated just by looking at the photograph. However, KDS quickly realized that three pages of documentation were not necessary for the immediate purposes of the project. Thus, it was decided that only these fields would need to be populated by the artists at the time of capturing the photo:

  • Title
  • Contributor
  • Size
  • Placement
  • Location of Sign
  • Effect of the sign on Space
  • View Range
  • Density of Signs Nearby
  • Effect (How strong of impact on environment)
  • Affect (Your Emotional Response)
  • Visibility
  • Tone
  • Emotional Response
  • Aesthetic Value

Two deciding factors went into choosing these fields: first, these fields were deemed useful in terms of analyzing the effect of the sign on the space around it as well as the emotional affect on the individual. Second, these fields were decided as elements that could only be accurately captured in the physical presence of the sign.


KDS went through several issues deciding on a mobile platform to gather the metadata. Perhaps the most challenging part was finding a workflow that would be compatible with most mobile phones. This ruled out the potential of creating a mobile app, or using existing mobile apps that already handle form submissions, such as Tapform. Finally, the website Jotform was decided as the platform as the KDS was able to automate a process in which a third party website would process the image (as well as the image’s latitude and longitude) taken by the artist and reply with an automated e-mail that contained the Jotform metadata attached to the image that was submitted. The metadata then submitted from this form was directly input to a Google Spreadsheet, which we could then import into the visualization platform that we would later decide on. This handled the issue with being compatible with most mobile platforms, as all the artists needed were e-mail and basic browser capabilities, while also providing a database that could be used for visualization later.


Augmented Reality

Initially, the KDS decided to try to explore methods of visualizing these signs in Augmented Reality, much similar to the Monocle feature within the Yelp mobile app. This way, someone trying to actually visualize the physical effect of the sign, they could view it in proper context. Exploring augmented reality browsers such as Layar, KDS quickly realized that this would be beyond the scope of the project as well as not compatible with all mobile devices. Nevertheless, should this project ever be expanded, augmented reality would be a very effective way to analyze the effect signs have on their surroundings because of the context it provides.


The KDS also evaluated websites for creating tours such as Google Earth, HistoryPin and WhatWasThere. These platforms provided means to upload images of the signs into Google Street View to accomplish a bit of context, but unfortunately did not possess the capabilities of incorporating the metadata fields in its entries, thus making it a mostly visual project. Though users would be able to see the signs in context, the data would be left unexplored.


Finally, Geocommons, a mapping visualization platform, was decided upon to create the final product of the project. Within Geocommons, KDS was able to input custom icons to display the type of sign while using graduated size display options to adjust the size of the icon to match its emotional and spatial influence or lack thereof.

Geocommons directly called the data from the Google Spreadsheet and plotted each sign according to the stripped latitude and longitude. What resulted was the capability of creating a map that could document the affect and effect of signs, documenting and analyzing how they create the spaces around them. These maps were then presented to the artists after they had populated the data points.



This visualization displays the final workflow of the project:

Baltimore-Signs-Project-Workflow(2013, Anthony Bushong)


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