The Moving Class

How Chicagoans Move around the city across different types of transportation and socioeconomic class? | 2015


Quick Facts:

  • 11 Hours spent laser cutting
  • 3,732 Data points evaluated
  • 3 Arduino-controlled modules
  • 500+ people impacted by installation



We were originally a group of undergraduate and graduate students at Northwestern University and the School of Art Institute Chicago

Seph Lang, NU Graduate Student

Brian Lichliter, NU Graduate Student

Isabel Ngan, NU Undergraduate

Aditi Bhandari, NU Undergraduate

Jade Bordeaux, SAIC Graduate Student



In an effort to marry the worlds of engineering and art, Northwestern University partnered with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to create an installation series: Data As Art. With a diverse team of Artists and Engineers, my group focused on designing an educational piece to reflect access disparities in Chicago. Using the city's open source transportation data we were able to evaluate and plot public transit usage data across the Chicago grid for three modes of transportation: buses, trains, and bike share. Our final installation, displayed at SAIC and Northwestern, incorporated laser-etched acrylic and arduino-controlled LED systems across three modules, each showcasing transportation accessibility respective to distinct social classes.


The installation is organized so that all three modes of public transportation – train, bus, Divvy bikes – are simultaneously visible. Each inside their own literal box, the data of each socioeconomic class is revealed through lighting and allowed their own moment to be compared to other modes of transportation.

Eventually, one socioeconomic class fades to reveal the next, to again be compared. Each class’ data presents itself for study without commentary, instead allowing the user to interpret and observe areas of overlap and sparseness for themselves over repeated viewings.

We chose layered panels to best demonstrate overlapping and changing data. From there, details and tectonics were evolved to the most minimal and clear form of presentation.


The project evolved through an iterative process beginning with two themes of data accessed through the Chicago Open Data Portal and questions about the relationship between public transportation and socioeconomic status. The challenge was to transform thousands of data points into a visually engaging art installation that is both aesthetically pleasing and informative to the audience.


1. Acquired transit data from Chicago's open city portal

2. Plotted transit usage data in relation to the geographic coordinates of Chicago

3. Utilized Adobe Photoshop and illustrator to convert the plots for laser etching


Since the final piece would be displayed at multiple location for extended periods, it was critical we design with both transportation and audience engagement in mind. At all installation locations there were several key factors to account for: light pollution, audience accessibility, and hardware/component safety. 


The product was a single module consists of four laser etched acrylic panels illuminated by neopixel LED strips running along the perimeter of the panels. Each module contains a bus, train, and bike usage panel as well as a specific panel relating to the socio-economic distribution across the Chicago city grid. In an effort to create an installation with a magnetic presence, we designed the modules with an open environment feel that showcased the LED illumination of the visual data. Each module is bookended at the top and bottom of the acrylic panels and can suspended with cables or chains in almost any setting.


Divvy Bike Data

The El Data

CTA Bus Data

Socioeconomic breakdown of Chicago