The Cover Story: It’s an IoT future in Oregon factories

OB's art director shares the backstory about our November/December issue cover.


How do you depict the Internet of Things?

The last time I confronted this question, it was in the context of smart homes. I needed to create a lede image for reporter Caleb Diehl’s story about the Internet of Things in the home — all those smart furnaces and talking refrigerators — and how it’s vulnerable to cybercrime. These topics freely lent themselves to visual associations that were for the most part easy and entertaining to execute.

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Not so much for the manufacturing sector, which is the focus of our November/December issue.

How does the Internet of Things intersect with manufacturing? “It’s about the chips,” said editor Kim Moore, who was reporting the story that would be the cover feature for our November/December issue. Microchips, or sensors, strategically placed throughout a factory enable tracking of production via mobile devices and more. The entire Northwest region is a tech hotbed, from Seattle to Silicon Valley, she told me.

Chips and maps…therein lay the concept.

I looked up “circuit board” on Shutterstock and found one that had an element that already sort of looked like Oregon, to me.

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Using that and another image from Shutterstock as inspiration, I settled in and began inventing a circuit board and microchips in Adobe Illustrator. I would be illustrating both the cover and the inside spread — which also would include California and Washington state shapes — so I’d be in the chair, clicking the mouse, for a while.

Interestingly, while I clicked and drew little lines and circles and doohickeys, etc., I listened to The Circle, a 2013 novel by Dave Eggers that depicts a hyper-connected utopia, awash in data and “transparency.” And there I was, drawing the data conduits between states.

Still, while IoT enables manufacturers to more closely track their equipment and production, it’s nothing like The Circle. Not even the slightest bit creepy.

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