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LA to SVA in 10 Days, by Timothy Cohan

Visualizing changes in pace and spending over the course of a road trip

February 24, 2015

[This is a guest post by Timothy Cohan*, about his visualization project “LA to SVA in 10 Days”.]



In July 2012 I began a new chapter in my life. I quit my job, sold most of my furniture, and moved out of my apartment in Fairfax, Los Angeles. After working for seven years as a graphic designer I decided pursue my masters degree at School of Visual Arts’ graduate program: MFA Design: Designer as Author + Entrepreneur.

The relocation to New York City was a perfect opportunity to drive across the country—something I’ve always wanted to do. So I packed up and hit the road. Over the next ten days I visited Grand Canyon, hiked Mesa Verde in Colorado, camped Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, and walked Bourbon Street. I saw parts of the country that I had only passed over on countless flights and visited friends and family along the way. This project visualizes the 3500-mile coast-to-coast drive.

As with any project, it began as a series of sketches. I have consistently found it’s the best way to get ideas on paper quickly. I keep the style fluid and refrain from self-editing. I almost never erase. I draw lightly at first to block out general size and form and press harder to define details. I use colored pens and pencils to represent the different pieces of data.

Initially I explored illustrating the data with circles, but as I progressed the concept diverged from the early sketches. Graphically, the circles were intriguing, but did not function well in practice. The circles at each stop became simple markers. In this case a customized bar graph was more effective in representing measurable and comparable data. With the concept established it’s easy to get carried away with the many ways to expand on it. I explored using road sign-like graphics for the legend and title, but it was overkill. It didn’t say anything new and diluted the overall impact. I also omitted the grid representing the latitude and longitude lines, which were arbitrary after removing the map.

The final form is essentially a pair of bar graphs that mirror each other: the top indicates time elapsed and the bottom money spent on lodging and dining. The concept is exhibited in the transformation of a typically horizontal x-axis to one that follows the organic path of travel. Lines radiating from the axis mark increments of data and suggest topography in their form. I oriented the bars so that they were perpendicular to the meandering axis and simply typeset the title and legend for clarity. I chose Clearview for the project typeface, which was designed for and is currently used as the standard for US road signs. The “map” is drawn to scale.

This illustration highlights changes in pace and spending over the course of the trip. In the beginning I made frequent stops and drove for shorter periods of time because I hadn’t spent much time in that area of the country before and wanted to explore. I remember it was fairly easy to find affordable lodging for the first few days. But, as the drive wore on I simply wanted to get to the finish line so I picked up the pace. I hadn’t planned ahead for several overnight stops and ended up splurging on convenient, but expensive hotel stays. On the last leg of the trip I stayed with family in Baltimore, which was a good place to spend an extra night and rest up.

Without having any background information about the data one could make assumptions. One might infer that there is much more to see in the Southwest, or there is more affordable lodging there. New Orleans may appear to be an expensive place to stay and Baltimore deserves an extra day. Basing this off of data from a personal experience highlights how we make assumptions in analyzing and processing statistics. As I experienced this firsthand, I understand the meaning behind the graphic, but someone looking for the first time may form different conclusions.

This was an invaluable exercise and I’ve been meaning to do another. All it takes is big list of quantifiable data recounting an event or experience. I just need to choose another event. Maybe I’ll drive back to LA.

(image: This is a list of the raw data from each stop. | Timothy Cohan)
(image: These sketches explore different solutions. I had thought about using the actual route early on in the process. I also explored circular forms, but ultimately a linear solution was more appropriate | Timothy Cohan)
(image: The first step was to draw the route and mark the stops | Timothy Cohan)
(image: I added locations, miles traveled, and the lines for marking data. | Timothy Cohan)
(image: I flowed in the data, the project legend, explored road sign graphics in the legend and title. There is clearly too much going on here, and I the next step is to simplify | Timothy Cohan)
(image: The final piece is scaled back considerably from the previous iteration and focuses on the data. I removed the map, the road signs and some of the less relevant information | Timothy Cohan)
(image: Detail showing the beginning of the trip | Timothy Cohan)
(image: Detail from the middle of the trip | Timothy Cohan)


*Timothy Cohan is an artist, designer, and entrepreneur, born in Beverly, MA. He received his BFA in Visual Communication Design from The Hartford Art School in 2005 and his MFA in Design and Entrepreneurship from School of Visual Arts in 2014. He has worked as a graphic designer in Boston, Los Angeles, and New York City exploring many areas of design, with a particular focus on environmental graphics. Notable projects include the retail signage and wayfinding system City Creek Center in Salt Lake City (EG magazine, 2012) and the street signage and addressing system for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (EG magazine, 2014). In 2014, inspired by his love of sketching people and cityscapes, Cohan founded Pincil, an online sketch gallery and marketplace. His sketches, paintings and sculptures have been shown in New York City and Hartford. He has contributed to Print magazine’s blog and his work has been published in several books on design including Graphic Style Lab (Rockport, 2014) and Infographics Designers’ Sketchbooks (Thames & Hudson, 2014). Cohan works at Pentagram Design in New York City and lives in Brooklyn. Viosit his website and follow him on Behance.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.