Seattleness: A Cultural Atlas book goes on sale Oct 23

Photo by Derek Reeves

Seattleness is a stunning coffee table book conceptualized and authored by a talented trio: Natalie Ross, Jenny Kempson, and Tera Hatfield. Tera’s curiosity and creative superpowers lie at the intersection of human-centered digital and physical design. Jenny brings experience in community-centered design and research with a foundation in psychology, and Natalie is a landscape architect and geographer, with a background in fine arts and an expertise in infographics.

Seattleness title page

The book is written in the style of  Portlandness. Seattle, as a city is both intriguing and compelling with its moody weather, UFO sightings, phenomenal coffee, quirky hipsters, and tech giants. The book was a collaborative endeavor, and each author bought their own core competency to the table. Kempson tells us a little about their process, “Every outcome of this book has touched each of our hands at some point throughout the process. As part of our process, we would convene every quarter in Seattle, rent a cabin for the weekend and dive deep into each component of the book. We often would fill the walls with our work and carefully craft our stories together. At times, we would all write, at times we would all design. We brought in additional expertise when we needed it and used each other’s strengths throughout.”

Seattleness, published by Sasquatch Books, is like a visually rich cultural atlas of Seattle answering all your questions about the Emerald city, even some that you didn’t know you had. Through experiential data-driven cartography, the book studies a sweeping range of subjects that make Seattle what it is. Seattleness goes on sale Oct 23 and you can buy it here. We tracked down the three authors to know what went in the making of this expansive project.

The authors. Photo by Derek Reeves.

Seattleite: What was the biggest challenge in the project?

NR: Finding the best way to tell some of the Seattle stories was definitely a challenge. Translating these into something visually beautiful, interesting and intelligible took a lot of trial and error, creative thinking, and tinkering in spreadsheets!

JK: The biggest challenge of this project, to me, was the finding the right balance of interesting topic and acquiring a set of quantity and quality of data that we can use to represent that topic in a unique and visual way.

TH:  We allude to this in the introduction of the book, but the largest challenge was trying to capture the dynamic nature of place in an honest way—uncovering and retelling stories that capture what makes Seattle, well Seattle. It was a challenge to reconcile what the city used to be and what it is now and not drawing comparisons or labeling them as good or bad as they are very different.

Seattle gum wall. Photo by Matt Donovan

S: What is your favorite highlight from the book?

NR: My favorite map in the book from an author’s perspective is the “Jazz on Jackson” map.  I read Paul De Barros’ book “Jackson Street After Hours; The Roots of Jazz in Seattle”, and was so inspired by all the amazing people that have lived and made music in and around downtown.  It was a fun all-around map to make because it included telling stories, mapping, and getting to illustrate the stories (my favorite part!)

JK: My favorite highlight is what this book on my shelf represents – a true collaboration between dedicated friends with a shared interest of data, visual representations, and stories.

TH: The visuals and writing, whether abstracted data or fine grain detailed infographics successfully conveys the city from different perspectives and different time scales.

Floating forts. Photo by Ross Eckert

S: What do you think is Seattle’s most distinctive feature?

NR: The physical geography.  The ways in which topography has molded the movements of Seattleites cannot be overemphasized (ie; Denny regrade, neighborhoods centered on hills, bridging over waterways, etc.)

JK: After living in Seattle and then moving away, one of the things that make Seattle distinctive are the mountains and water that surround it. It is dramatic and when you are walking through the urban areas of the city, these features will appear magically when you turn corners, walk through an alley, or stand on a hill.

TH: I grew up in Bremerton, running to catch the hour-long ferry ride across the Puget Sound to Seattle, desperate to spend the weekend trolling Capitol Hill for all ages shows in the mid-‘90s. The view into the city while standing on the top deck was always a favorite.

*(c) 2018 by Tera Hatfield, Jenny Kempson and Natlie Ross. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Seattleness by permission of Sasquatch Books.