IDStudio: Map project crit 2

The second crit session for the Design Studio Maps project was on Monday. I brought both of the versions from my previous post to class with me, but wasn’t feeling excited about either one. I think there are some good things in there, but the design feels confused to me, like it’s trying to do two things at once. I had tried to remedy that by changing the route lines back to a linear path, but that wasn’t feeling like quite enough to solve it.

I got generally good feedback from the class session, but the core focus of the design has been bothering me more and more over the past couple of days. (This is a normal part of my process: I mock something up, let it rest, then tear it apart. I keep what works, reinvent the rest, and am usually much happier with the outcome. My first attempt is rarely inspired, but my tenth is sometimes not too bad.)

What I have for the map at the moment is ok, I guess, but it’s nothing special, and its central purpose doesn’t yet feel clear to me. To be perfectly honest, the more distance I get, the more I want to apply the word “amateur.” I was going for professional.

So, what would that look like? I’ve been playing with that idea for the past couple of days,  wondering where it might lead. I’m not sure that I have it yet, but I think I’m getting closer.

Doug might have solved the first part of the problem in class when he told me to eliminate the arrows that indicate direction turns. He finds that symbolism confusing, and doesn’t think it would be intuitive to most people. This is one of those “kill your darlings” moments – that was one of my favorite features of the map. But, if it doesn’t work, then it has to go (and good riddance).

Doug also said that we’re not aiming to be Google Maps – the product is meant to convey information about a trip, but doesn’t have to tell someone how to take the trip themselves.

That last point is key, and it’s one that I’m still struggling a bit to envision (it’s not surprising that my work is confused, when my own conception of what the outcome might look like is still a bit hazy). At root, I think it comes down to me needing to abstract out one more level from reality; I’ve been trying too hard to hold onto the literal definition of a map, and the assignment is supposed to be more symbolic. Symbolic of what? Well, that I’m not sure. Still working on that part.

I had tried to abstract my original photo-realistic sketches into icons, and had replaced most of my other symbols with abstract representations as well. The farm stand became an apple and a bunch of carrots, Michael’s became a collection of art supplies, the Paper Store became a letter and envelope. I was surprised when Doug suggested in class that I simply use the Michael’s logo; that seemed like the opposite direction from where I needed to head, but perhaps I was trying to take things too far. Finding that balance between symbolic and literal depiction is proving to be a bit of a challenge for me.

As I said, I think Doug solved part of the problem in the map design for me, though. By getting rid of my arrows (and the need to give step-by-step instructions for each trip), he removed the constraints that had forced my organization to this point. The routes were drawn in three vertical lines because they needed to be, not because I liked them that way. But, that was the only organization where the text and arrows would be in the correct orientation for the user to interpret the step-by-step turns. Without the need to give those instructions, I can do almost anything that I want with the route depiction. (Time to play!)

I want to be careful not to choose something just to look fancy or artistic, though; whatever organization method I choose has to make sense with the trips that I want to portray. Whatever form it takes, I want it to be the simplest form possible; I just need to figure out how to make that interesting, too. (The current iteration is simple, but not interesting. I’ll take that over interesting and unintelligible, but I’m hoping that I can do better than either of those options, in the end.)

I started mulling over those possibilities on the train yesterday, and then talked them over with Andrew in class last night. He’s in a different section of the course, and from the sounds of it their group has taken a very different direction than ours. His map is organized very much like an infographic, using data to make comparisons between the different destinations and the routes along the way.

That conversation got me thinking about this project from a perspective that I hadn’t even considered, and one that feels a bit more familiar to my data-driven self. I’m still feeling my way through what things might look like from that angle, but my gut says that there is something good in that direction, if I can find it.

Fortunately, we still have a few weeks to play around with this idea, so it’s not too late to do a complete redesign, if that’s what the project needs. My goal this week will be to flesh out some of the nebulous ideas floating around in my head, to see where they might lead. Hopefully they’ll turn into something good. Even if they’re dead ends, I imagine that they’ll probably inform my current model, and that can only be a good thing.