The Whole Wide World: Content Development for Interactive Maps


Thu, 11/08/2012 - 4:30pm - 5:00pm
Track: G. Evaluation, Labs, Production, External Engagement
Room: Spring


  1. Name: Michael Neault
    Title: Content Producer
    Organization: Second Story Interactive Studios


Interactivity brings a whole new dimension to the art of cartography. Maps are no longer static pieces of paper, they can move in a multitude of dimensions: up, down, backwards, forwards, inside, outside, even traveling back in time. With the added versatility of digital also comes complexity. The new breed of cartographers are more apt to be developers than geographers and more likely to be mathematicians than artists. Today’s maps are often a hybrid of Powers and Ten combined with something out of a Neal Stephenson science fiction novel. How can your institution harness the power of mapmaking to communicate information? This presentation will use a rich integration of visuals to communicate the evolution of maps and how they can be used to tell a story. Discussion points will include content strategy and development, interface design, data wrangling, and working with an interdisciplinary team to extend your capabilities.

Session Description:

The presentation will be divided into 5 main topics and will use many real-world examples to communicate the basics of interactive map making.
1) Evolution of Map Making. A brief shotgun history of the innovative ways maps have been used. This will focus in particular on maps that communicate more than just a sense of geography. Maps are occasionally used to convey a multiplicity of information, such as time, in addition to geography, and it is in such layered maps that we find the analog predecessors to interactive maps.
2) Content strategy & development for interactive maps. When you think you have the content that warrants an interactive map, it helps to give yourself a quiz to determine the best direction for your map. What is the scale of the map? What are the plot points, i.e., what is the distribution of information? Beyond data, what is the volume of content? Does it really warrant interactivity? By determining a content strategy before diving into development, it will help guide the narrative of your map (yes, maps can be stories too).
3) Applied Cartography. Using behind-the-scenes process documents, I’ll discuss how Second Story developed the content for an interactive, time-based, 3D map of Mount St. Helens. We worked closely with NASA, USGS, and a scientist from the Forestry Service to develop the content. To implement the design we collaborated with a cartographer, a graphic designer and a 3D engineer. The case study will pull out examples of what worked well, what didn’t work so well, and what others can learn from the experience. For a sampling of the content, see this blogpost
4) Interface design & Usability. You may not be a designer, but it’s important to understand how interface design can impact the story you’re trying to tell. How the map is packaged will communicate a wealth of information about the story contained therein. Considering the navigation, legend, colors, and typography holistically is just as important as developing the content. This section will discuss a few simple tricks to keep in mind so that your map remains clean, uncluttered and accessible.
5) Interdisciplinary teams. Unless you’re a prodigy and a polymath, making an interactive map is going to take some team-work. What type of people do you need to collaborate with in order to execute on the idea? You probably won’t find the expertise in-house, but universities and government organizations offer many opportunities, if you know where to look. Also, several organizations, like USGS and NASA offer reams and reams of public domain data online. Even if you aren’t prepared to make a map from scratch, there are readily available tools to help you create something unique using a pre-existing platform. Lastly, I’ll share some examples of excellent interdisciplinary work being done in interactive maps.

Session Info

  • Type: Individual Paper
  • Keywords:
  • Relevance: Target audience would be for education specialists, content developers, and strategists. The relevance is to provide accessible, practical tips for producing interactive maps, to discuss a range of inspiring examples from the field, and to share public resources available to museum professionals.

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