New frontiers for digital graphics in the built environment

Boundary-pushing experiments from media and software companies like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Tableau are revolutionizing digital graphics, raising public expectations for sophisticated visuals and interactivity. And people working in the built environment are taking note. According to Bond Harper, an analyst in the digital insight team in Arup’s Los Angeles office, these tools have begun to help designers reach better outcomes across a wide variety of activities — and will one day do far more.

Productive play

The most obvious application is information sharing. Instead of flipping through pages of charts in a report, clients and stakeholders can now click through eye-catching, clickable graphics that present the same data. This holds the potential to increase public awareness of critical issues involving the built environment, Bond believes. “For things where we’re trying to engage the community and capture interest, it hopefully increases dwell time, because it’s fun to play with but also informative,” she said.

To jump-start conversations about these possibilities outside of her team, Bond used JavaScript to create an interactive graphic showing where the world’s most important water companies operate based on the recent inDepth Water Yearbook. She then presented it at a February event that brought together people across the firm working with different kinds of cutting-edge technology.

Uncharted territory

Experiments now underway at Arup and beyond will soon allow these tools to do far more than present final outcomes in an appealing, intuitive manner. Digital graphics could improve team communication during all stages of a project, for example, or allow engineers to crowdsource information without compromising analytical rigor.

A dashboard developed for the London borough of Croydon provides a glimpse of what to expect in the future. This web-based portal gives stakeholders comprehensive information about the large-scale regeneration planned for the district, helping them comprehend the cumulative effects of almost 200 individual projects and track their delivery in real time.

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