Stamen's Big Idea: Blankets Made From Open-Source Maps of the World


Screen Shot 2011-11-22 at 6.09.52 PM.pngWe asked Stamen, an award-winning design and technology studio in San Francisco, for its smartest new innovation. Here is what they gave us.


Soft Cities is a San Francisco-based company that sells blankets and napkins. Sounds pretty standard.

But actually, there's something quite cool about these blankets and napkins. You can custom-print them to feature a street map of your favorite location, like a college campus, hometown, or far-away city. Working with Stamen Design, an award-winning tech-and-map design firm in the Bay area, it uses open-source software to access a kind of "world-wide Wikipedia for maps" and turns it into custom textiles of any neighborhood you want.

"This kind of business model, where open data projects run by volunteers both support and see benefit from their involvement with commercial entities, is super interesting, and I think we're going to see a lot more of this kind of thing in the future," Stamen told me in an email.

"We're also working on two open source projects of our own--ModestMaps and CityTracking--that make it easier for designers and the public to tell stories with data. What's exciting about these is that they also make it easier for us at Stamen to tell stories with data; since they're open source, we can use them in our commercial projects as well as exhibitions for galleries and museums."

Want to share your company's best idea -- or your own! -- for our Best Ideas series? Leave your idea in the comment section or email me a description and a photograph at


The Best Ideas Series

Stamen Design: Napkins and Blankets Made From Open-Source Maps

Samsung: A Refrigerator With Apps

GE: A Real-Time Energy Dashboard For Your House

Google: A Personal Translator on Your Phone

Facebook: A Social Solution to Password Security

MasterCard: The Post-Plastic Credit Card

Intel: The Ultra-Efficient Processor of the Future

Caltech: Artificial Leaves That Turn Sunlight Into Fuel

IBM: The $100 DNA-Sequencing Machine

Under Armour: The World's Smartest Shirt

Siemens: The World's 1st Hybrid Electric Airplane

Genentech: Chemotherapy Without Side-Effects

PARC: A Better, Faster, Stronger Internet

Andreessen Horowitz: A Camera That Focuses After You Click

Duke University: A Cancer Flashlight


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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