Digital Map Design: Uncharted Territory
Building design surveys and implementing user feedback
There are no standards for designing interactive digital maps for the indoors.
This was the primary challenge for my team at Mappedin. Having no previous design standards, we had the unique opportunity to start with a blank slate. How do we build the most intuitive, accessible and visually appealing maps for our users?
Our research objectives were as follows:
- Identify variables that we should consider when designing digital maps.
- Launch design surveys to understand how our maps perform on key variables.
- Understand what our users consider to be a 'good' map.
Our goal was to use the knowledge gained from this research to have quantitative feedback on hand during design reviews and project consultations with our customers.
While indoor mapping is relatively new to the digital age, outdoor mapping is far more established. I looked at design guidelines from cartographic design material as a starting point for our research. Here were my initial takeaways to consider:
- Colours - Is the colour palette balanced in hue and saturation? Colours also have meaning in different contexts and cultures. Do chosen colours convey the appropriate emotion and meaning?
- Contrast - Variation in lightness and darkness is needed for the human eye to easily recognize and understand important information.
- Visual Hierarchy - It is useful to design a colour palette that adds more visual weight to some features over others.
- Accessibility - There are thresholds we need to meet to accommodate people with different visual needs such as impaired vision or colour blindness.
Meeting with Internal Stakeholders
While I had some key takeaways from our initial research on outdoor cartography, it was important to recognize that the context of our product is quite different from conventional GIS principles. We had to borrow what we can, and then invent the rest.
My colleague Kate and I held a meeting with our team and various department leads to identify more specific variables that we needed to test with our survey audience. We sparked the discussion with a competitive analysis of our maps compared to other indoor mapping providers. These were the variables we decided to include:
- General preference: How do our map styles rank among users?
- Visual 'weight' of indoor vs outdoor features
- Representation of a washroom
- Representation of escalators, elevators, and stairs
- Drawing attention to public entrances
We decided to test these variables within the context of a single venue in order to establish consistency. Changes were made to simulate different map styles and variations in feature design, while keeping all other factors (including the property itself) as control variables.
A few questions from the survey are shown below:
Overall, we gained a number of insights that helped us iterate on further designs.
- For the first time, we had quantitative feedback on how people perceived and ranked our designs. For example, we learned what our best overall designs are (E & C), and we plan to use that as a benchmark for measuring future improvements.
- From the short answer questions, we learned why a map might rank high in full context, but lower when zoomed in or vice versa.
- We gained a better understanding of how people prefer entrances, escalators, elevators, and washrooms represented. Based on these findings we decided on the following for all implementations moving forward:
- Stop making entrances red, and start using other options like green in combination with arrows to better signify entrances.
- Stop representing escalators and elevators in their current style and switch all new implementations to option B or C.
- Make all washrooms a shade of blue to better differentiate and identify them on maps.
Create new designs and then launch a new and improved survey towards the end of Q1 2020 to see if we can do even better than our current 'best' designs.
Use survey examples to build design standards that project managers can use when having design consultations with clients.