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Kate McLean at Malofiej 23

Creative mapping that leads to new visualization options and enables us to experience data in new ways

March 26, 2015
Kate McLean at Malofiej 23

The last keynote of the Malofiej 23 Infographic World Summit was delivered by Katherine McLean, a designer, mapper and collector of urban smells working in visual / olfactory communication – something completely different than most of the previous presentations, much more related to data art than to visual journalism.

Kate’s research links human perception of ‘smell data’ with the urban environment through sensory mappings. She combines “smellwalking”, digital design, watercolour, motion graphics, distillation and scent diffusion in the creation of “smellmap installations”. Her work has been exhibited in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Newport, Paris and Pamplona.

In fact, her Scottish sensory map series is held in the National Library of Scotland’s permanent collection, and in 2014 she was awarded the Avenza Award for digital mapping for a motion graphic of the Scents of Amsterdam. She works as a Senior Lecturer of Graphic Design at CCCU and is a part-time PhD candidate, Information Experience Design at the RCA, London.

In her talk at Malofiej 23, titled “Ephemeral C’Art (discontinous, temporal, contested)”, Katie presented the process behind these “smellmap installations” – a work that can be explored in several formats, both digitally and physically.

Sensory maps website | Kate McLean
Sensory maps website | Kate McLean

Instead of using a technological approach to collect this invisible, ever-changing, rich dataset, Kate prefers to use humans as sensors. As she so eloquently puts it , “Smell Maps contain humanity and elicit memories”.

Smell Maps share this link with indivdual everyday experiences, rather than being big data driven they rely on the perceptions of a few to ask get the rest of us to relate to an aspect of city life, they also share the link to memory…

The inspiration for these sensory maps comes from different sources, including some vintage cartography gems, such as Nicolaas Visscher’s 1613 Map of Amsterdam, that became the reference for Katie’s Amsterdam Smell Map. She explains that influence in this article.

Nicolaas Visscher’s 1613 Map of Amsterdam, the inspiration for the Amsterdam Smell Map
Partial view of the Smell map of Amsterdam, by Kate McLean
Partial view of the Smell map of Amsterdam, by Kate McLean

Besides learning how the participants collect and classify this data (using forms and hierarchic categorization), it was very interesting to see how new levels of interaction occurred with the final installations. As invisible smells turn tangible, people start actually playing with them.

To close, Katie shared three key messages regarding her experiences with sensory mapping that connects, in someways, with a lot that has been said throughout this second day of Malofiej, regarding experimental visualization and humanizing content, without underestimating the audience.

1) Mapping affords new discoveries of urban places and spaces
2) Creative mapping generate to new visualization options
3) Making smells visible and tangible enables us to experience data in new ways

Keep up with Kate’s updates on Twitter (@katemclean) and browse through her work on the Sensory Maps website, where she shares most of these projects. Also, stay tuned for an upcoming new Sensory Maps app that Kate announced during the conference.

And that was it for the keynote sessions at the 23rd Malofiej Infographic World Summit. You can see all the posts of this series here, and keep watching this space for more Malofiej content, this time regarding the Awards.

Written by Tiago Veloso

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