Maps: Navigation or Communication Tool?

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Courtesy of Arkit

Since we first scratched directions into the dirt, maps have been the go-to when it comes to finding an unfamiliar place or geographical location. 

But they can offer more than just an address or walking route. Beyond the directions and street names, maps can tap into our instinctive understanding of the world in a powerful way by using identifiable symbols, geographical identification and legends to keep details clear. Digital mapping technology is a generational advance in mapping. Maps are increasingly popular interfaces for navigating to information.

Visuals = Understanding

People use applications like Google or Apple maps to get from Point A to Point B, with step-by-steps. 3-D mapping differs greatly here: instead of steps, the static visual experience is of primary importance. When it comes to learning instead of following directions, static maps make it easier to absorb information.

A good example of how visual mapping can work is the Clean Streets Initiative in Los Angeles, a program organized by the city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti. With the goal of documenting the entire city, the Bureau of Sanitation was sent out to explore all of the streets and alleys of Los Angeles – stretching to over 22,000 miles – to determine their cleanliness score. The city was then broken down into colours: streets that were clean (identified in green), somewhat clean (yellow) and not clean (red).

Creating an easy-to-understand map meant that, without anything but a color and a code, citizens can now see and respond to the conditions in their city. For Los Angeles, it meant that officials could instantly recognize problem areas and had the ability to deploy a Clean Street Crew to where it was needed most.

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