Creating the Atlas of Emotions
Date:June 10th, 2016

The Atlas of Emotions, a digital product that visually maps human emotions, has gained national attention. Since the project’s release in April, there has been more than 80 million views to the site, coverage in the New York Times, an NPR podcast, and even praise from President Obama.

During a series of conversations between Paul Ekman and the Dalai Lama, the Atlas of Emotions was born.  With the help of Ekman’s daughter, Dr. Eve Ekman, and Stamen Design, this interactive visual journey merged science, philosophy, and design.

This project was built to create an interactive atlas to illustrate the science behind human emotions. The atlas beautifully illustrates the five basic human emotions and the effects they can have on their host.

The five basic human emotions everyone feels are Anger, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Enjoyment.  These emotions are each represented in the atlas with their own map and color. Since it is difficult to illustrate and quantify human emotion, the atlas is a representation of 60 years of research done by Ekman.

“This innerness, people should pay more attention to, from kindergarten level up to university level. This is not just for knowledge, but in order to create a happy human being. Happy family, happy community and, finally, happy humanity,” said the Dalai Lama in a New York Times article.

The project was brought to Stamen Design in 2015.  Stamen was challenged to marry complex scientific data with visual usability. The process involved a lot of time, several rounds of building, and a leather notebook filled with illustrations of emotions and how they behave.

“Drawing data visualizations in a notebook for the Dalai Lama with one of the 20th century’s great scientists and his daughter has been one of the best and most challenging experiences of my life,” said Eric Rodenbeck, the founder of Stamen.

Presence was involved with the early stages of Atlas of Emotions. With the collaboration of a project manager, designer, and a Presence developer, the first iteration of the project was built.

Pressed with a one month deadline, Presence developer Yotam Ginzburg, made his own custom content management system to organize the mass amounts of data on how the emotions reacted with each action.  This system enabled rapid prototyping in addition to making  it easier for a non-technical person to edit the data and make content changes.

“This project was unique and interesting because it allowed us to focus on art instead of how the product could make money,” said Ginzburg. “We were pushing creative boundaries.”

The individuality of this complex project allowed the visual communication of emotions to reach a huge audience. This special project successfully combined art, philosophy, and science to form a truly unique experience.

“We are thrilled to have contributed to the Atlas,” said Presence CEO, Jason Monberg. “Knowing that this work has reached millions of people is awe inspiring and a testament to the work the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman have been pursuing.”