MKThink: An interdisciplinary approach to data visualization,
graphic design, and the built environment.
By Jessie Lamworth
When packing my bags for a summer in San Francisco, I had no idea what to expect. Not only is the weather in San Francisco notoriously unpredictable, and my only experience in the city involved a bout of food poisoning, but I also had only a vague understanding of what I would be doing at a company I knew very little about. MKThink was listed as an “architecture firm” in the internship application, described as “the ideas company” on its website, and recounted as “more of a data analytics business” by previous interns. Luckily the varying descriptions were all positive, and I knew that no matter what I ended up working on, whether it be data, technology, design, or architecture related, I could learn skills relevant and useful to my Growth & Structure of Cities major.
Time has flown by. I have learned so much both from working at a vibrant architecture/design/data/technology startup and from living in a bustling, history-packed, world-renowned metropolis. Getting to see San Francisco by walking its streets and meeting its people has been fascinating and fun, especially considering its unique urban plan and colorful cultural makeup. I have never truly lived in a city until now, and it has changed my perspective of urbanism completely. I couldn’t possibly be a Cities major until I spent time participating and engaging in an urban environment, and I am so intensely grateful for the opportunity to do so.
More than halfway through my internship, I have grasped the range of things the company I work for does. MKThink is indeed an architecture and planning firm, as well as “an ideas company for the built environment.” Namely they design buildings and spaces that are environmentally sustainable, comfortable, and efficient, and they provide strategy and innovation consulting to clients who are interested in creating such spaces. They do this in part by utilizing data and software from their sister company, RoundhouseOne, which develops digital tools such as analytic engines, user interfaces, and data feedback loops. Altogether, this small yet mighty company accomplishes many significant goals for many significant purposes.
There are three projects that I am working on at MKThink/RoundhouseOne. The first project is to design a user interface for a data visualization tool developed by RoundhouseOne. The web tool takes unstructured data such as text from social media, scholarly journal articles, audio, images, etc. and organizes it to produce a structured visual representation of that data. My wireframes have included basic web interface elements as well as detailed graphs and visual data representations.
I have also been creating several infographics to assist in the outreach to promote such web tools. This requires a full understanding of the types of data analyzed by RoundhouseOne and the most efficient way to convey this information in a clear and concise manner. I have certainly gained a lot of graphic design skill in working on these two projects, and I have learned extensively about the importance and significance of data in influencing research and development decisions.
Finally, my mentors at MKThink have allowed me to pursue an independent project. Because my assigned work didn’t have much to do with architecture, and I am interested in possibly pursuing an architecture degree someday, I decided to choose a project that would necessitate architecture and urban design skills. In walking around San Francisco, I noticed the public “Parklets” located in many neighborhoods. Public Parklets are small public zones that are placed in parking spots and are designed for pedestrians to sit, relax, and enjoy scenery. These small areas interested me because of their range of utility and design appeal. There are many that welcome pedestrians and are appealing to spend time in, and there are many that appear private and exclusionary. Thus I decided to investigate the current profile of Parklets in the city, and ultimately design and draw plans for an ideal Parklet. I am currently in the design process, which involves working around a great deal of civic restrictions and requires lots of creativity and imagination. My final design should be fun, welcoming, and safe. I am using observational data as well as in-depth research to influence my design.
I am so grateful for this opportunity made possible by the Whitehead family. The internship has been an immersive workplace experience, and the environment I am living in has taught me more than can be taught in a classroom. My biggest and sincerest thanks go to the Whitehead Family for allowing me to have this invaluable experience in this incredible city.