2018 | Google

Sculpting Data with Google Trends

Data Art, Augmented Reality Experience, and Public Data

Our second collaboration with Google News Initiative was in response to a growing sense of malaise that gripped much of the world by 2018. With every notification seeming to bear worse news than the last, it was easy to lose sight of the positive progress that connectivity was enabling. We set out to solve a riddle: How could we leverage data to combat information fatigue?


Google News Initiative’s mission is to foster quality journalism in the 21st century. Sensing that people were suffering from information overload at least partially due to the 24/7 churn of news media, the team was searching for solutions to encourage people to reconnect with issues that mattered to them. In collaboration with Google, we designed a novel experience to remind people of the real–world possibilities of online activism. To bridge the digital/physical divide, augmented reality was a natural choice.


We envisioned an interactive tool that prompted users to reflect on issues of importance to them. To begin, we mined Google Trends data to identify recurring topics in the news and compiled a sizable swathe of interests covering culture, education, technology, society, science, wellness, economy, and medicine.

Next, we brainstormed how to visualize these categories as hopes rather than concerns, with due respect to the weight of issues like poverty and climate change. To convey the idea of accomplishment or "overcoming the odds", we visualized future aspirations as stackable boulders: a gravity defying feat nonetheless achieved by ancient civilizations as well as solo contemporary artists. Working with the totemic formations—”Hope Sculptures”—we added visual elements to connote additional information.

To show these sculptures in the real world, we used Unity 3D to develop iOS and Android–compatible AR apps with Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore technologies. Working with our friends at Monogrid—a digital interactive studio—we explored ways to exploit AR’s applications for data analysis with the ultimate goal of nurturing real–world engagement.


Building Hopes is a web and mobile application that portrays hopes for the future as colorful stone sculptures. Upon entering, users are prompted to choose up to ten topics that are important to them from a revolving list and "weight" them based on their degree of hopefulness. Their answers yield a digital sculpture, transposed onto their physical surroundings with AR technology.

Hope Sculptures aren't just pretty; they function as entry points for curated Google Trends data. The size and rotation of the rocks, their colors and composition, and the speed and direction of their rotation represent users' expressed interests and, simultaneously, global patterns in search traffic.

With a mobile device, users can physically interact with Trends data to access more information. Moving closer to a Hope Sculpture reveals detailed information on search volume over time; rotating one's device shows how selected hopes are faring in the app in countries around the world.
AR View: Moving closer to a sculpture and rotating one's device unlocks new information.

By manipulating virtual rocks and looking at others' Hope Sculptures, users can see how their values stack up to the rest of the world. Are other people searching for the same ideas or different ones? How much hope is there for the movements that matter to me?

As a tool for self–reflection, Building Hopes empowers people to filter their news consumption. To stay informed, it suggests, we should focus our concentration on issues close to our hearts. As a technical product, the app showcases new possibilities for data analysis with AR. Reconnecting data with the people, places, and things it represents has never been easier.
Giorgia Lupi
Giovanni Marchi
Alberto Massa
Luca Mattiazzi
Gabriele Rossi
Cesare Soldini
Elisa Spigai
Alessandro Zotta
Simon Rogers
Alberto Cairo
Data Art
Augmented Reality Experience
Public Data
Dataviz, Experience, WebApp, and Mobile App Design
Data Art, Physical Installation, and Augmented Reality Experience


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