Make Maps Most Meaningful With These 4 Tips

Alertable Map

Using maps in mobile apps and websites can be an intuitive way to communicate information with spatial or geographic characteristics. However, maps also present a complicated conceptual information and interaction model when used in software. Using maps to convey information effectively can be a challenge.

  1. Map symbology – the words, shapes and graphics used on a map to represent an object or event in the real world – may be recognized by some people but not others. Some tips for effective map symbology include:
  2. Use familiar symbols. Many map users will already be familiar with some symbols, such as a blue line for a river, or the use of red to convey danger. If necessary, a legend can provide an explanation of unfamiliar symbols, but this is best left as a last resort, as it further adds to information density.
  3. Keep it simple. Avoid using too many, or too varied symbols on the map. If there is more than one type of information being displayed, consider adding filters or map layers that allow users to reduce the information they see at one time.
    Be sensitive to the map zoom-level. When zoomed out far, markers that pinpoint locations may become too close together to discern or interact with. A possible solution is to group nearby pins together, and either zoom in when the group is touched, or present a list of applicable information items.
  4. Conversely, when the map is zoomed far out, geographic areas on the map may become too small to see. Consider an alternative symbol, like a map pin, to indicate the feature when the map is zoomed out. And where possible, automatically set the map zoom-level to for the feature being viewed, so the entire area shown with some map area around it visible to provide context.

Generalize the data appropriately. For example, in the case of emergency alerting, it’s most important to quickly communicate the general area of an event, so very detailed area boundaries are unnecessary and can visually clutter a map. A simpler, more generalized shape is more effective.

Take care. Be prepared.

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