Through Google News Initiative, the tech giant works with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age. Building Hopes is an augmented reality (AR) app that Pentagram partner Giorgia Lupi created for Google News in collaboration with her former team at Accurat. Through a playful AR interface, the app allows users to build virtual "Hope Sculptures" that express their views as individuals, then compare them with those made by others around the globe.
Our world is awash in data. Every time people check their phones, search online, or use a credit card, they generate data. When visualized, these datasets help organizations identify trends and measure consumer behavior for commercial purposes. When Google News asked Lupi and her team to experiment with combining news data and AR, the team took a more creative, humanist approach, looking to create visualizations that could serve cultural purposes.
In the context of rising political and social tensions around the globe, the designers wanted to tap into positive ideas and activism. Through data visualization, the project team aimed to highlight movements that are creating hope for the future and spread them at the speed of social media.
Starting with a compilation of recurring themes and ideas that dominate the news—immigration, self-driving cars, Internet of things, sustainable development, and so on—Lupi imagined each idea as a rock or boulder that a user could select, modify, and stack into a personal totem using augmented reality. The size, rotation speed, and direction of each of up to ten selected stones indicated how much hope the user had assigned to the corresponding theme.
The balancing, moving, 3D Hope Sculpture would then become a means of accessing Google Trends data on the various themes from users around the world. By manipulating the virtual rocks and looking at others' Hope Sculptures, users could 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 technical product, Building Hopes demonstrates how innovatively data visualizations can look and behave in augmented reality. AR brings an element of physicality to the intangible, allowing people to experience their hopes in 3D. The realistic "space" created within the app facilitates new types of data interpretation and understanding. The speed of the rotating rock, for example, represents a trend in the data in an unusual but clear way. If the user turns their screen around, they access Google Trends in a 360-degree view. Interaction is intuitive and feels more natural than the typical app.
As a personal experience, Building Hopes encourages people to establish their own frame of reference—to take a stand on a topic—before they look at data on others’ views. Through the app and its unique combination of art, data, and technology, Building Hopes and Google News promote positive and critical thinking about the pivotal issues of our time.