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It is often the case in interaction design that the best solutions simply get out of the way, allowing the user to achieve their goal and get on with their life. With Google Maps, this is certainly the desired outcome. Geographic navigation and search should be smooth, efficient, and ultimately straightforward. When this is successful and the product works as it should, the nuances and details behind these experiences can often go unnoticed, written off as algorithmically derived and invisible.

Since its launch in 2004, Google Maps has come a long way from its relatively simple beginnings as a simple pannable and zoomable road map of the United States and United Kingdom. Today we display business and transit networks, three dimensional cities, natural terrain, and much more. It is a map that serves pedestrians, motorists, tourists and locals alike. Soon it was not only used it as a "clean" map for wayfinding and browsing but also as a base for overlays, search results, directions, and personal customization—with sources from all over the web. In the same vein as Google's mission, we are organizing the world's information in a geographic context.

The work and evolution behind this ambitious undertaking is a combination of design vision, product strategy, engineering prowess, and ethnographic and usability research. Our User Experience team comprises a small group of designers, researchers and prototypers in offices around the globe. The research and experience gained in these diverse locations give us insights into real-world usage and help us better serve the needs of our users.

The breadth of our collective work, whether it's anything from helping a local business connect more meaningfully with their customers to helping you find your gate at the airport on time, is harmonized by our common goal to deliver a more complete picture of the Earth. From its roadways and cities to weather patterns and natural wonders, our team is attempting to capture the complexity and variance of these multiple systems in a product that just about anyone can use.

To accomplish this vision, we work in our studios flipping between sketchbooks and whiteboards, Photoshop and Fireworks, visualizing user scenarios and creating new design concepts quickly and in high-fidelity. We complement this process by hacking rendering specs and tweaking Javascript to produce interactive demos. Occasionally, we will even turn to programs like Apple Keynote and Adobe After Effects to quickly demonstrate interactive transitions and animations. These lightweight models give us the ability to test and experiment with highly interactive designs without demanding the resources of a full engineering team. As the design process continues, these prototypes (and static design mocks) are crucial in our early "cafe" usability studies where we often walk a user through a single-outcome user "journey" (e.g. getting directions or finding a hotel).

1.jpegA snapshot of Google Maps' design evolution 2009 (top) - 2011 (bottom). click for more information.

Synthesizing all of this information in an approachable and aesthetically pleasing way carried obvious challenges. As the product grew and evolved, the map varied widely from one country to another, and the universal familiarity and usability that made Google Maps a success was being undermined by complexity and "feature creep." To better understand which of these variances were useful, we audited the map styles, colors, and iconography of maps all over the world with the help of local users. We examined the leading online and offline mapping providers in each country, in addition to researching local physical signage and wayfinding. This undertaking provided us with a look at mapping as a local exercise—with cultural, ethnic, and region-specific quirks and nuances.

2.jpegOur global cartography audit in progress.

With this research in mind, we came to the realization that there was little consistency between this collection of maps and no real indication of a common "correct" palette for color and style rendering. By unifying and simplifying our own Google color palette down from hundreds to a small handful of colors, we were able to produce an experience that provided familiarity and uniformity as you browse the world.

3.jpegA sampling of our color palette studies and refinement.

(more...)

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Hand-made American map

Seth Stevenson, for Slate Magazine, covers cartographer David Imus' hand-crafted wall map, which Stevenson calls the greatest paper map of the United States you'll ever see.

American mapmaking's most prestigious honor is the "Best of Show" award at the annual competition of the Cartography and Geographic Information Society. The five most recent winners were all maps designed by large, well-known institutions: National Geographic (three times), the Central Intelligence Agency Cartography Center, and the U.S. Census Bureau. But earlier this year, the 38th annual Best of Show award went to a map created by Imus Geographics—which is basically one dude named David Imus working in a farmhouse outside Eugene, Ore.

What makes it so good? Zoomed out, it doesn't look much different from other maps. Zooming in, however, you see something that was carefully crafted by hand. Below is a side-by-side comparison of Chicago on the Imus map (left) and a National Geographic map (right). Disregard the fuzziness in each, as that's the product of a scan. On one you have forestry shading, straight labels, and more emphasis on locations than on interstates. The other reads more like a road map.

I'm not so much a cartographer as I am someone who puts data on maps, but I can appreciate the thought and care put into each placement like I can appreciate a data graphic designed by someone who knows their data well. Calling it the greatest ever is a tough sell though. I'd be interested to hear what you cartographers think.

The map is available in print at Imus Geographics. Hey, you can even get it laminated.

[Slate | Thanks, Claire]

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[ By Steph in Architecture & Design & Graffiti & Drawing & Travel & Places. ]

Maps aren’t just two-dimensional pieces of paper depicting the locations and geographic features of the world. They’re the basis for portraits, sculptures and clothing, and are reconstructed or reimagined by these 15 artists in the most curious ways – whether recreated solely with typography, dissected and rearranged or used to illustrate information that can be humorous or disturbing.

Map Portraits by Matthew Cusick

(images via: mattcusick.com)

Matthew Cusick cuts apart maps to create stunning collages and sculptures, including these portraits. The Dallas, Texas artist collects maps and cuts them apart according to color and shade, pasting them into these compositions on a board backing. But the particular maps chosen also have meaning in reference to the subject: “The people I construct out of maps represent certain ideas and moments in time that resonate deeply with me,” he says. “The maps I choose for each work relate to that person’s timeline and history. I’ll use these maps as a surrogate for paint but also as a way to expand the limits of representational painting. Each map fragment is employed both as a brush stroke and a unit of information. The human form acts as a matrix in which inlaid maps from different places and times coalesce into a narrative.”

Head Sculpture by Nikki Rosato

(images via: nikkirosato)

Delicately interwoven like veins, the tiny green, blue and red strips of maps used to create these incredible sculptures are molded around a packing tape form to create a three-dimensional shape. Artist Nikki Rosato removes the land masses, leaving nothing but the roads and rivers behind, reinforcing the paper with wire as necessary. Rosato told Wired UK: “Through the removal of the land masses, the places almost become ambiguous since all of the text is lost. Unless someone really knows the roads and highways, it is almost impossible to identify the place.”

Census Maps of Dating Keywords

(images via: luke dubois)

Touching and, at times, hilarious, these keyword maps by R. Luke Dubois associate each town with the terms most often used by locals to describe themselves and their desired partners on their online dating profiles. Dubois joined 21 dating websites and analyzed the language used in 21 million profiles to come up with the data, which was then displayed on maps. Chicagoans say things like “prankster”, “pizza”, “smoker” and “synagogue” while Central Texans are all about “churches”, “boundaries”, “barbecue” and “Madonna” – the latter presumably referring to the Virgin, not the pop star.

The World by Paula Scher

(images via: 20×200.com)

The names of countries, cities and geographical features like deserts and mountains make up the hand-painted text-based map entitled ‘The World’ by artist Paula Scher. “The World is a painting about information overload. It depicts the world as swirling information that is always changing, often inaccurate, while somewhat illuminating. It is expressionistic information.”

Map Roadways by Matthew Cusick

(images via: lisadent.com)

Also by Matthew Cusick are these beautiful maps of roadways that “go nowhere”, weaving and curving around the world. “Maps provided so much potential, so many layers. I put away my brushes and decided to see where the maps would take me. I think collage is a medium perfectly suited to the complexities of our time. It speaks to a society that is over-saturated with disparate visual information. It attempts to put order to the clutter and to make something permanent from the waste of the temporary. A collage is also a time capsule; it preserves the ephemera of the past. It reconstitutes things that have been discarded. A collage must rely on a kind of alchemy; it must combine ordinary elements into something extraordinary.”

Typographic World Maps

(images via: design ahoy)

Nothing but text – and, in some cases, dreamy splashes of watercolor paint – make up these hand-crafted world maps by Chicago-based designer Nancy McCabe. So minimalist, and yet there is so much to see – you’ll find yourself reading the names of cities which pop out with new clarity against their stark background.

3D Maps of New York Architecture

(images via: ramonespantaleon)

The First Apple series by Ramón Espantaleón is a tribute to New York, particularly in light of the upcoming 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Espantaleón recreates scale models of the cities in clay, painstakingly constructing each building at 1/65 scale, before using them to cast silicone molds which can then produce recreations made of epoxy resin and polyurethane. Espantaleón, a Madrid native who lived in New York on the day the World Trade Center fell, places these pixelated city blocks onto representations of the Twin Towers.

Maps, Reorganized

(images via: armelle caron)

Like meaningless maps for the obsessive compulsive, these works by Armelle Caron take the components that make up a city and lay them out according to size for a more tidy-looking result. The French artist displays the original maps alongside the decontextualized shapes, also providing wooden cut-outs that can be arranged by visitors.

Map Clothing by Elisabeth Lecourt

(images via: elisabethlecourt.com)

Elisabeth Lecourt of France created this series of children’s clothing called ‘Mapquest’, with vintage styles crafted from folded and cut maps.

Typographic Map of Chicago


(images via: axis maps)

Is it any wonder that some typophiles are so obsessed? Typography, often beautiful and evocative in itself, provides the basis of yet another map, this one of Chicago, created by Axis. Thanks to the colors chosen for various elements, from afar, they look like normal maps, albeit with a bit of artistic flair in the wavy sea.

Crime Rates as Topographic Maps

(images via: dougmccune)

From WebUrbanist: “Who knew that San Francisco had a mountain called ‘Prostitution Peak’? Such hidden ‘landscape features’ are revealed when the city’s crime statistics are analyzed as a 3D topographic map. Data visualization engineer Doug McCune shows how the city’s notorious hills can shift according to the type of crime, from larceny and vandalism to robbery and assault.”

Patterns in Pieces of Maps

(images via: shannonrankin.com)

Maine-based artist Shannon Rankin uses little discs of maps to create installations, collages and drawings “that use the language of maps to explore the connections among geological and biological processes, patterns in nature, geometry and anatomy. Using a variety of distinct styles I intricately cut, score, wrinkle, layer, fold, paint and pin maps to produce revised versions that often become more like the terrains they represent.”

Stunning Transit Maps by Zero Per Zero

(images via: zeroperzero)

This is one transmit map that you’d likely be more than happy to frame and hang on your wall. Seoul graphic designers Zero Per Zero create colorful abstract compositions of the metro systems in Tokyo, Osaka, New York City and other cities around the world.

Map Dresses & Money Maps by Susan Stockwell

(images via: susanstockwell.co.uk)

UK artist Susan Stockwell uses maps to craft stunningly detailed dresses, often with political implications; the dress on the left is ‘Empire Dress’, a Victorian style created with maps of the British Isles, while the right-hand ‘Highland Dress’ depicts a traditional Scottish style made with maps of the Highlands. Stockton also creates ‘money maps’ including ‘America is an Imperial State’, left, made with Chinese yuan, and ‘Afghanistan – A Sorry State’, made with American dollars.

Map Collages & Sculptures by Chris Kenny

(images via: design boom)

Chris Kenny fashions scraps of maps into complex three-dimensional forms, reducing entire continents to strange shapes hung on a wall or turning flat images of the world into globes. Kenny says he replaces “the cartographer’s logic with an absurd imaginative system. The roads float and interact in unlikely combinations that allow one’s mind to ricochet back and forth between disparate locations and associations.”

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[ By Steph in Architecture & Design & Graffiti & Drawing & Travel & Places. ]

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World of Rivers from NG

The annual Malofiej awards, for top graphics in journalism, were handed out last week. The best map of 2010 went to National Geographic for the World of Rivers. Every river system in the world was mapped and scaled by annual discharge.

We live on a planet covered by water, but more than 97 percent is salty, and nearly 2 percent is locked up in snow and ice. That leaves less than one percent to grow our crops, cool our power plants, and supply drinking and bathing water for households.

Showing everything doesn't always work with so much data, but it does in this case. It reminds me of Ben Fry's All Streets. See the full-sized interactive version on National Geographic.

Also, congratulations to National Geographic for winning the Peter Sullivan award (best in show) for their map of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and The New York Times for their work on how Mariano Rivera dominates, print and online, respectively.

[Society for News Design]

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