About: Different Data

Different Data (DD) is a collaborative critical design research group (Rachele Riley, Dan McCafferty and Joshua Singer) who collects, manipulates, and displays data in location-specific public environments. DD maps notions of place by revealing hidden, overlooked and silent narratives (and other aspects) of urban cultural ecologies, using unexpected and often poetic methods for generating and gathering data.

We investigate cities using standard datasets and incorporate layers of ‘different data’—data that is affective and subjective; marginal and ephemeral; idiosyncratic and questionable. Pursued publicly, our work forms an intentionally fragmented artifact that creates an alternate or counter-narrative. These explorations are designed to challenge preconceived notions of place and its dynamics, and offer another view of given reality.

In Fall 2014, we participated in a residency as part of DesignInquiry at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) in their Department of Education and Public Engagement (DEPE) Space. We created a 40 by 15 ft layered wall composition and three-dimensional digital environments as ways of presenting a view of the city through multiple paradigms. We mapped various narratives of the city, layering data gathered from diverse sources: open datasets, historical maps, field collections of visual and GIS data, and data generated through studio-based experiments. Outcomes included visualizations of city parcels designated as ‘unknown,’ large collections of typographic typologies from the urban landscape and imaginary structures that delineate hidden pasts, and a mapping of the highest water debt in the city. Rather than examining discrete and specific issues, we used various datasets to make irreverent connections among them, revealing other realities of the city.

The project involves making the work in a public open setting and, as such, has a distinct performative quality whereby our process is made visible and is open to all. This approach turns the process of design into an exposition of itself. It demonstrates that giving data form—by deciding what is used or discarded, and how it is experienced—is a creative, experimental, and subjective process. It challenges the authority of data and the process by which it is made meaningful.

The ultimate goal is not to create a single ‘seamless’ artifact (Manovich, Image Future, 2006, p. 25–44), but rather to express the ‘complex and fragmented realities of today’s systems’ (Weiser). ‘We should pay attention instead,’ as Mark Weiser puts it, ‘…to the seams and necessary disruptions: aiming at cities that maintain “seamful systems, with beautiful seams.”‘ (Lynch, Wasting Away—An Exploration of Waste: What It Is, How It Happens, Why We Fear It, How To Do It Well, 1991)

In June 2015, we carried out the next iteration of our project: ‘Different Data Detroit (+Stockholm)’ at the Nordic Design Research Conference in Stockholm (NORDES). We brought the outcomes of the Detroit project to Stockholm and merged these two ecologies on the walls of the exhibition space over the course of the four-day conference. We proposed that the discursive relationship between these two cities is nascent and probable, on various levels. There were connections that we could presuppose (structure, form, system, mythology) and those that could be realized only through discovery during the work in the space during the conference. These connections ran deep, even if they were forced by our subjective measurements and even if only a fiction (which is enough). In keeping with the methods of Different Data, the Detroit (+Stockholm) project was both methodical and poetic, creating a link between and a layering of the two cities of both factual and speculative comparisons.

—Rachele Riley, Dan McCafferty, and Joshua Singer


‘Different Data Detroit (+Stockholm),’ at NORDES 2015: Design Ecologies, Konstfack, Stockholm, Sweden. June 2015.

‘Different Data Detroit’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD)/DEPE Space (residents as part of Design Inquiry), Detroit, MI. October–December, 2014.


‘Different Data: Experimental Design Research for Mapping Cities,’ paper presentation by Rachele Riley and Joshua Singer at CUMULUS Milan 2015: The Virtuous Circle, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy. June 4, 2015.

Live interview (Rachele Riley and Joshua Singer) on EU Design Radio, Milan, Italy. June 5, 2014.


Project Documentation:
Different Data Detroit (+Stockholm)
Different Data Detroit
Different Data and DesignInquiry, December 2014
Different Data and DesignInquiry, October 2014

Different Data website (www.differentdata.net)