How Sitegeist used great design to make census data cool

By Eliza Kern

Can census data be fun?

At first glance, you might not think median home prices or transit data would be all that interesting. But Sitegeist, the location-based open data app from theSunlight Foundation and famed design firm IDEO, is proving that good design can make public data cool.

The concept seems simple when you open the app, the app uses data and information pulled from a wide variety of sources. Sitegeist allows users to set their location and then flip through several screens to explore data tied to their specific location. The screens include: people (median age, age distribution, household income, gender, and political contributions), housing (median home value, average rent, percentage renting v. buying, and commuting patterns), local attractions (popular businesses, local movie theaters, and restaurants), environment (weather), and history (median home age and number of housing units.) The app is available for both iOS and Android.

The sheer volume of data that the Sitegeist app provides for each location is a reminder that between census data and public APIs from companies like Yelp, Foursquare, and Dark Sky, users can put together a relatively comprehensive profile of a geographic location. The Sunlight Foundation put together a “how we did it” blog post, explaining the technology behind the app and how they used different APIs to build a comprehensive product:

All of this wonderful data resides on our servers. When you select a location, the latitude and longitude are passed along with the ID of the pane you want to view. Of the various geographies we keep track of (census tracts, ZIP codes, etc.), the boundaries of any shape that contains your location is found. This uses a customized version of Chicago Tribune’sboundary service. We then match those geographic boundaries with any data we have, making calls to third-party APIs as needed. The collected data is rendered into templates and returned to you as the beautiful infographics you see in the app.



About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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