Studio Sutherl& looks to nature for Silicon Valley design project

A Californian Sequoia tree informed the design concept for De.Coded, a multidisciplinary project that builds a detailed picture of the world’s largest technology hub using DNA mapping and oral histories

Human Atlas is a series of research-based, interdisciplinary explorations of the people of a specified geography by British artist Marcus Lyon. Previous locations have included Brazil, Germany, and the US city of Detroit, but in the latest project in the series, Lyon’s focus is Silicon Valley in California – home of the tech giants.

The various projects each grow in different ways, but all begin life as a limited edition book and an interactive exhibition, and this time is no different. Titled De.Coded, the latest instalment in the series can be read as a publication, experienced through an app, and witnessed in person.


The multimedia book is the product of a year-long nomination process through which a group of local leaders and activists within Silicon Valley nominate individuals in their communities and networks that they believe to be making a difference in the area.

The result is a selection of 101 influential figures from a range of backgrounds, whose photographic portraits and oral histories can be found within the book. The latter works by downloading the De.Coded app and using the entries in the book to find the nominee you would like to listen to. Featured in the list are entrepreneurs, educators, activists, artists, scientists, engineers, athletes, politicians, and more.

Readers can also explore both the ancestry of each featured nominee, as well as the overall ancestral DNA of the Silicon Valley area (culminating from the individual results) shown through colourful and accessible diagrams.

In the book, the cross-section of a tree trunk is a key piece of imagery, alluding to the similarities between DNA testing and tree-ring dating. This image is found on the front cover and also replicated using the DNA results to create vibrant artworks. The design was printed from a “fallen Californian Sequoia representing both generations and the passing of time”, according to Studio Sutherl&, which has worked on this project as well as past editions of A Human Atlas. “Californian FB, designed for the University of California Press, was used to have a human script contrast with the computerised identity of Silicon Valley.”

Through the photographs, oral histories, and DNA mapping, De.Coded paints a detailed picture of Silicon Valley, offering readers a stronger understanding of the area, and attesting to its complexity and diversity. “The final work honours the exceptional diversity of the valley and tells a deeper narrative about one of the most influential regions on earth,” writes Lyon.

A Human Atlas: De.Coded is out now;