The Office for Creative Research (OCR) is what Noa Younse calls “a tiny, artificially lit, heat-challenged Chinatown shoebox of a space.” But in that office, designers are generating some of the most exciting data art and visualization today–from a sculpture that quotes Shakespeare to software that analyzes digital spies.
Now, OCR has published its first book, the minimally named OCR Journal #001. For data viz nerds who are familiar with similar print projects like the Feltron Report, it’s an instant collector’s item. The studio will print a limited run of just 500 copies, and each will have a unique, fluorescent cover. What information these covers actually convey, OCR won’t say, beyond that they’re related to one of the studio’s past projects.
It’s a fun gimmick, sure, but it’s also a way to celebrate print as a medium–a medium with which OCR is less familiar than screens. OCR has created algorithms inside the 9/11 Museum, built the matrix of chatroom surveillance screens inside the The San Jose Museum of Art, and painted the University of Texas with the words of Walter Cronkite.
“Print is attractive because it is outside of our comfort zone. While our normal work is dynamic and time-based, print requires us to step back and choose a few specific words and images to represent an idea,” explains OCR information designer Ian Ardouin-Fumat. “The journal also creates a space for the hundreds of visual experiments that are part of our process and don’t make it to the real world. The exploration phase is one of the most exciting parts of our work, so we wanted to show it off and spark some discussion around it.”
Inside, the book is a retrospective of the studio’s work over the past two years. But it’s less the work that you’ve seen, and more work that you haven’t–assorted explorations and side projects that the studio’s team is involved with. The journal had been planned since OCR’s inception. But my hunch is that it’s like a steam valve for the studio’s creativity–a place to drop projects outside the realm of their day job.
That includes some real crowd-pleasers. For instance, a map called Bieber Nation imagines the tweets of celebrities as a sort of on-the-road political campaign; the most favorited tweets of Taylor Swift and others are equated with the populations of small towns.
Other projects are framed under the lens of research–as in, this journal is the result of OCR researching itself, mining its own data and pulling out insights. On such visualization is called A Phenology of Projects, and it maps the volume and frequency of Slack and Github updates that the OCR team made while working on commissioned projects. This is OCR mapping much the effort they put into work they created for clients.
“In terms of transparency, most of it was in service of seeing if there were any patterns in the way that we discuss and produce projects,” Ardouin-Fumat says. And OCR did learn a few things: Most notably, that while only a few people might code a project, the discussion surrounding it would often involve the whole team.
Another piece of self-scrutiny is Ardouin-Fumat’s series of images Collective Unconsciousness. It compares sci-fi interfaces, like those of Minority Report, with actual work that OCR produced. The similarities were sometimes built deliberately, sometimes (potentially) unconsciously. Ardouin-Fumat makes no distinction between which were intentional allusions, and which were unintended knockoffs, and that gray area is part of the fun.
If you want to obtain a copy of the journal, it’s available for pre-order now for $35.