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TIPS TO CREATE BETTER MAPS

A map can be a visitor's friend or foe depending on the quality of its information design. Oftentimes a well-intentioned map is riddled with too many competing colors, poorly drawn icons or a jumbled key requiring constant head jerking to confirm a reference point. The other extreme is the cold, computer-generated schematic that gives little thought to the visitor experience and how they will be interacting with the facility.

"A good map prioritizes information, streamlines task flow and gives thought to how the facility relates to the world," say Lin Wilson, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Funnel Incorporated, an information design firm that specializes in infographics, icons, charts, maps and instructions. “Instead of one-dimensional, architecturally-accurate layouts we prefer to study people interacting with a facility firsthand to discover their common reference points, mistakes and preferences."

Once solely the responsibility of Operations Directors, maps are now being considered a marketing tool that can enhance a customer experience, illustrate unique anecdotes and provide a branded leave-behind for visitors to retain and revisit again off site. "Collaborating with marketing and operation departments elevates the map up the food chain in terms of design, budget and relevance to the success of an organization," continues Wilson. "Technology is also providing us with more opportunities to solve a visitor's problem in a unique way, so we’re also working with IT on projects all the time."

Here are several things to keep in mind when designing a map:

  • Resist the "mouse maze" effect – Whether the space is a new architectural jewel or a series of buildings cobbled together over time, a map should lend an overarching logic and orientation to the layout through the use of color, shading, elevations and by exploiting the natural anchor points and mutual points of view most visitors share.

  • Make it user-centric – Information designers are more sympathetic to visitors' needs than a cartographer whose goal is to document the terrain accurately and thoroughly. The best maps acknowledge that a visitor may be distracted, busy, multi-tasking or unfamiliar with the local language. Information designers strive to avoid information overload by streamlining complex elements into a more harmonious tool that achieves the user's objective.

  • Prioritize tasks – Cramming every possible thing into a map may cover all the bases but often contributes to a newcomer feeling overwhelmed and confused. Ironing out problem areas like parking can ensure a good first impression before a visitor even enters the grounds. Selecting a color palette that boldly emphasizes key areas from secondary ones helps to quickly zero in on popular attractions. Thicker line weights for main roads or passageways differentiate them from secondary routes that only serve to orient the reader. A hierarchy can also strategically manipulate people flow to emphasize an area of preference such as a hall that passes by a gift shop or concession area.

  • Invest in relevant icons – There exists a universal set of ADA compliant icons but gaps in the collection don't always address a particular need (designated airport pet walking area) or are in need of an update (when was the last time you saw a pipe for sale in a gift shop?). High-quality icon illustration ensures the readability, clarity and consistency that is expected and relied upon by visitors with various needs from around the world.

  • Consistent naming conventions – Especially in older facilities, a visitor is likely to encounter several different names describing various floor levels or areas of interest by staff, on signage and on the map. Creating a map builds staff consensus so that inconsistencies are resolved.

  • Watch and learn firsthand – The best maps get input from greeters, security and ticket agents who are on the grounds every day directing people and observing the most common complaints, mistakes and workarounds. This input is enhanced with firsthand observations watching for bottlenecks, turnarounds, questions, frustrations, handmade signs and patterns that are often overlooked with familiarity.

  • Design to format – Map formats dictate the information based on where they are and what they should do. An online map used to plan ahead features only the most important information, not every drinking fountain or gift shop. Mobile phones offer fast access and are relied upon to direct someone or enhance a point of interest with additional facts. Freestanding directories emphasize a person's location in relation to the rest of the facility. Paper maps marry the need to direct with the added benefit of anecdotes, illustrations and additional facts of interest to provide a comprehensive, branded reference of the experience. Heading off confusion by guiding a guest in an intuitive and welcoming way ensures a positive and productive experience. "Trained staff greet and direct visitors," concludes Wilson. "Maps should be an extension of that thoughtfulness and hospitality."

ABOUT FUNNEL
Funnel Incorporated is an information design firm that specializes in making the complex clear through the creation of infographics, icons, maps, charts and instructions. Map clients include: EAA Flight Event, Minneapolis St. Paul Airport, Milwaukee Art Museum, Ten Chimneys Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne Estate Museum (winner of a 2005 Museum Publications Design Award) and Carmichael Lynch for Ginn Resorts. For additional samples and information about Funnel Incorporated, visit http://www.funnelinc.com.

 
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Samples of Map Projects

EAA Map

EVENT MAP
EAA AIRVENTURE FLY-IN ("OSHKOSH")
MSP Airport AIRPORT MAP
MINNEAPOLIS ST. PAUL INTERNATIONAL
Milwaukee Art Museum MUSEUM MAP
MILWAUKEE ART MUSEUM
Ten Chimneys ESTATE MAP
TEN CHIMNEYS
Ginn Resorts REAL ESTATE MAP
Carmichael Lynch for
GINN RESORTS
   
Article in PR Week Magazine
PR Toolbox MAPS FOR PR?
February 23, 2009

Can maps be used in PR?
"Maps are an overlooked PR tool," says Funnel Incorporated's Lori Wilson. “One only notices them when they aren’t working."

Heading off confusion by guiding a guest in an intuitive and welcoming way is certainly a function of public relations. "Trained staff greet and direct visitors," continues Wilson. "Maps should be an extension of that thoughtfulness and hospitality." A good map ensures a positive and productive experience.

Maps also offer a unique opportunity to tell a brand's story. The colors, type and illustration style reflect an organization’s personality. Anecdotes incorporated into the layout make the facility come alive, and elevate the map into a leave behind visitors retain and review again off site.

Perhaps the most tangible benefit of a well-designed map is the role it can play in a crisis. "Organizations gain peace of mind knowing its facility is mapped out clearly and coordinated with signage to guide occupants during an emergency thus saving time, confusion and perhaps lives."