Its a given. That everybody loves maps. Easy to understand. Simple to use. WRONG!
Some people love maps. Some people find them easy to use. But many dislike maps. Let’s explore.
Maps. Loved and Hated!
My wife hates this app:
.. but she likes this app:
One is a guide on things to do in and around where we live. The other tracks and maps my daughters driving speed. Both are interactive and accessible from any device (PC, laptop, smartphone, tablet). Both incorporate maps. And yet my wife has very different views on each app. So what shakes here?
I asked my wife about the interactive guide. Her response: “I don’t like maps”. I then asked “Do you like the map in the driving speed app?” Her response: “What map?”. Fascinating.
I’ve been pondering my wife’s response for some time. She likes the driving speed app since it helps her monitor our daughter as a new driver. The app is easy to use and provides exactly the information she needs: driving speed, mapped green or red arrows indicating over or under the speed limit, and the ability to track my daughters driving speed over time. The map and graph are two monitoring mechanisms. I believe the key here is that this is not a map-focused app. The map is (dare I say) incidental.
By contrast the map as a guide is 100% map-centric. It requires panning, zooming, icon clicks, spatial orientation. This last point might be the most important. Spatial thinking is a dying skill. Today’s maps talk to us: turn right, turn left. More and more the spatial part of our brain lies dormant. Less exercised. Less needed.
If my thinking here is correct, we need to step back from our assumptions about maps. Our audience needs very careful consideration. Assuming a map is intuitive and easy to use is not a universal truth. Many (and these numbers may well be increasing) struggle with both maps and spatial thinking. There is certainly a growing demand for apps which incorporate a map, but are not map-centric. Apps which do not focus on the need for spatial thinking. Apps simply designed to convey focused information, or focused functionality, using the map as one key mechanism.
What do you think?
Author: Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan is a Principal at WebMapSolutions. Matt evangelizes GIS and location intelligence around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books. Follow him on Twitter: