From Mapping to Spatial Interpretation

I recently read A conversation with Ken Jennings and Jesse James Garret.  @UXMagazine about Ken Jennings’ book Mapheads which was published in 2014. They discuss the relationship of maps and design. It reminded me of my early love for maps and the fascination I’ve had with them over time. As quoted from Ken Jennings “…elegance of the map as a solution to a visual problem ‘How do I convey information about the world?’ This is at the core of the UX designers goals.


Every summer, my family would hit the open road for a vacation that normally included a lot of driving in our Ford Fairmont wagon, stops at seemingly random roadside historical markers and trips to baseball stadiums that were supposedly “on our way” to our final destination.

I lay in the “way back” section of the car, pouring over the intended route while imagining, alternate ways to get where we were going. Reviewing the various map symbols, topography and exchanges almost became another outlet for daydreaming and envision the possible excitement that lay ahead in the journey. It also caused me to think about how I would represent the 5420wisklandmarks as we passed them by and I saw exactly what they looked like. I recognized this desire to store and think about information in a spatial way. Ken Jennings shares his thoughts about it by saying. “That spatial way of storing information is apparently deeply hardwired into how our brain wants to learn things.”

This reminded me of the the quote from UX Researcher Ben Scheidermen  who states “The purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures

fitbitWe see this value being manifest in our products everywhere now. Real-time data in relation to geography and time exposing the state of the environment around us giving us the ability to maximize the experience we live in. Examples include a rise in Data Visualization products like Domo and systems that expose real time data like wearable devices, home automation and  electric connected cars.

Ironically it was all there before. We just didn’t have the ability to expose it in the moment. And now we can tap in to that “deeply hardwired” way of storing information.

just-ui-to-conversational-uiAs Conversational UI, AI and ML become more of a reality understanding how to design great experiences has become more and more about the choices made about what to include and what to strip away.

How does this change the work done as an Experience Designer? It doesn’t. It really just makes it all that  more important. There are now endless opportunities for feedback and interaction with people and our products. As I was once told by a former executive, “It looks like your job is going to get a little harder now.”

I would suggest however that now, more than ever a firm understanding of the core principles of usability are needed to combat the never ending battle against scope creep and adding features because you can, never stopping to wonder if you should.

Other great topics addressed in the A conversation with Ken Jennings and Jesse James Garret.  @UXMagazine 

  • Importance of how visualization of a map influences people’s perception about the concept of topic.
  • Cartographer’s building on top of each other’s work.
  • Marriage of Maps and Mobile devices
  • Importance of geotagging
  • Maps as a metaphor for conceptual journey’s

Looking for some design principles resources?

Try these sites (, (uxhow)

Participation in Your Experience

I just spent 6 wonderful days at the happiest place on earth with my family. I’m sure the happiest place on earth is different for many people but indeed I mean Walt Disney World. Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

In fleeting thoughts before I went I thought, I’m grown up enough not to have fun at Disney. I can see through the artificial “curtains” of the fantasy. But as I walked in the park my cynicism died almost immediately. Just before I gave up my pride I thought maybe it’s because I was feeding off the sheer pandemonium of my young nieces and nephew. Two seconds later I didn’t care and started running around the park like I was six years old.

As I jumped on the Peter Pan ride with my 10 year old niece, who’s clearly moving from child to tween, I wondered; What is it about the charm of these rides, or this experience that makes middle aged men want to buy and wear hats they won’t ever wear again? With the realism we are served through cgi, special effects in movies and video games everyday why does trolling me over a range of fake looking mountains with a modified dry cleaners’ carousel and black light suspend my reality enough to feel the freedom of peter pan himself?

As soon as I had asked the question it was instinctively answered. It’s your imagination. The power of the our human intellect makes up the difference, it then become a participatory experience. When it’s a participatory experience it can actually far more powerful than being served an experience. We come to places like Disney, even movie theaters to overcome the threshold of reality. They create the environment that gives us permission to break the boundaries of our normal lives and in turn we do the rest. That cooperation creates a true participatory experience.

If you talk to a doctor of medicine, she will tell you that the feelings you get from alcohol are not about the alcohol’s properties, but about how the human body reacts to the properties of alcohol. Alcohol happens to be popular because anyone can do it. It’s easy to purchase a drink get a euphoria. Another example of how the human body reacts to an environment is the runner’s high. After some amount of effort the body reacts to the conditions and creates a boost of energy. Think of your favorite entertainment, muse or hobby I would be that in some way there are elements of this principle in your activities.

Our design world has turned it’s ear towards this idea. More and more the democratization of design with the users and communities creates that two part balance. We might even go so far as to call our “users” …..participants.

When we think about creating good experiences as designers we are setting truly setting the stage. However the only influence we have in the experience is limited to the software we serve. We’re even limited to the technology the participant owns. Fortunately the near future we’ll be able to overcome these boundaries as mobile experiences become more accessible. That stage grows to be a larger arena as well at the role of the participants. Blogging, Twittering and Sharing trends have this well documented.

Monday morning I jumped back into my routine to find this gem of a presentation on TED. Julie Taymor presents her work on of all things Disney’s Broadway Production of the Lion King and validates my thoughts almost word for word. Needless to say I’m a big fan of hers instantly.