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Finding the directions between what, where and when.

Christopher Cannon Master of Fine Arts graduate Thesis process book

School of Visual Arts Interaction Design program May 2012


Finding the directions between what, where and when. Thesis process book of Christopher Cannon, Master of Fine Arts graduate in the Interaction Design program, School of Visual Arts, May 2012.


to alex I hope you never stop asking ‘why?’


Contents

Assembling and organizing all of the components for my thesis defense and ultimately this process book.


Introduction Page 8

01 impetus

02 inspiration

03 research

04 expert advice

Page 14

Page 20

Page 30

Page 50

05 early experiments Page 62

06 refining the pitch Page 74

07 concept development

08 prototyping

09 design

10 narrative form

Page 116

Page 132

Page 172

Page 84

References Page 198


Introduction

My thesis began and ended here: my 3x3x3 foot home at SVA's Interaction Design department. If I only knew what was in store for me...

lot of products and services that market themselves as productive or essential, but are really just distracting filler. My opinions on this subject were articulated much better by Jaron Lanier in his book You Are Not A Gadget: “Some of the greatest speculative investments in human history continue to converge on silly Silicon Valley schemes that seemed to have been named by Dr. Seuss… At these companies one finds rooms of MIT Ph.D engineers not seeking cancer cures or sources of safe drinking water for the underdeveloped world but schemes to send little digital pictures of teddy bears and dragons between adult members of social networks.” 1

My enduring love of maps and geography would meet my newfound enthusiasm of information visualization to guide my thesis in interesting directions. Early on, we learned that a design thesis is typically comprised of three parts: 1. Content 2. Tone 3. Format

In Spring 2011, as my first year of grad school was winding down, our Thesis Prep class was outlining the year ahead. And the year ahead was all about thesis. Since I didn’t arrive at school with any pre-conceived ideas about what I wanted to explore, I knew the thesis process would be hard. But I had vastly underestimated exactly how hard it would be—an all-consuming, confusing, often contradictory challenge that dwarfed all of my past academic and professional endeavors. After all, clients don’t say things like, “Its up to you what this should be” or, “How its done is a decision only you can make.” One criteria for a graduate-level thesis that is stressed is how it should be an original contribution of knowledge to the world; a concept that raised the stakes and made me feel that my ‘reputation’ was on the line. If I was going to spent a year of my life researching, conceptualizing, prototyping and designing around a particular subject, it had better be one that I was passionate about. If I was going to spend a year of my life working until dawn, sacrificing weekends and becoming a stranger to my family it should be in service of something I feel is important to the world, something bigger than myself. Hopefully this would be practical, rich in content and purpose, and not simply a trite portfolio piece. I always disliked a

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For my thesis, I had a vague sense of its content but needed to discover its appropriate tone and format. As much as I value maps (digital or otherwise) as a practical tool for navigation, I felt that was not the direction to follow (In my opinion, Google Maps had cornered that market quite nicely). I started envisioning maps more as a tool to connect with the concepts of geography—a tool for the exploration of “big picture” ideas, to help understand the world in which we live. What I was really asking and attempting to answer was the question of… “Why?” As I started this journey into the great and sometimes scary unknown, I was reminded of Magellan and other great explorers of the past. Like Magellan, I felt like was staring into a blank abyss hoping to come out on the other side stronger and more knowledgable for it. With any luck, my journey would be one without scurvy, mutinies or a bloody demise.

1. Lanier, Jaron. “Future Humors.” You are not a gadget: a manifesto. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. p.182.


Panamap of Manhattan created for Urban Mapping, a former freelance client of mine. This project was an exercise in cartography as well as information design and fact-checking.

In addition to collecting maps over the years, I have amassed a number of vintage passports which often illustrate through visa stamps where an individual has traveled in their lifetime.

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01

impetus

“I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and find it hard to believe.” — robert louis stevenson


Not enough maps: under pressure, Caitlin Upton, Miss Teen South Carolina 2007, answers a hard question. YouTube.com

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Contextus process book


“Recent polls have shown that a fifth of Americans cannot locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?” “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some… people out there in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, for our children.” “Thank you.”

One: Impetus

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What brought me here

The wastepaper basket I’ve had for over thirty years, still in use everyday. Note the anachronistic nations of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

design career, I often designed maps along with the websites, books or promotional materials they would be placed in. This eventually culminated in designing two maps, for New York City and Chicago, printed on a lenticular screen which could reveal or hide one of three layers of information depending on the angle it was viewed from. Not only was this my crash-course in the art & science of cartography, but information design as well. As much as I was interested in and passionate about maps, geography and travel, I realized that most other Americans simply did not feel the same way. For a country as wealthy and powerful as the U.S., the fact that only 30% of Americans have a passport1 is indicative of a larger problem. While the reasons for this are many and varied2, some of it can attributed to an ignorance and fear of the rest of the world. This apathy ends up forming our (lack of) world view: despite being almost constantly in the news for the last decade, 63% of young American adults can’t find Iraq on a world map3. If we don’t know where prominent, topical countries are located, what else don’t we know about them, about their people or culture or our relationship with them? This lack of knowledge leaves us unprepared for an increasingly competitive, interconnected and global future. (Case in point: Caitlin Upton, Miss Teen South Carolina 2007, attempting answer why most Americans cannot find the U.S. on a world map4.)

I personally have loved maps as long as I can remember. From road atlases crammed under our family’s car seat to the wastepaper basket my parents bought for me when I was seven years old that depicted the world, I was always fascinated by their representation of a larger world. Often these maps hinted to me an exciting world of adventure and exploration, of uncharted lands waiting to be discovered. Luckily this interest for geography and maps never left me and it later fueled my passion for travel. Immediately after college I worked at a travel bookstore in Boston which specialized in selling maps, globes, nautical charts and guide books. Later I found myself purchasing vintage foreign passports from eBay, trying to reconstruct a complete stranger’s life from the stamps and visas contained within its pages. In my professional graphic

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I took this as a personal challenge to remedy. While I knew that I wanted maps to be a big part of my thesis, it was apparent that the larger framework was more about information and exploration as I stated in my very first thesis proposal (facing page).

1. Changes in travel policy since 2007 now required passports for American citizens traveling to Canada or Mexico. Previous to 2007, the percentage of passport-holding Americans was much lower: “Passport Statistics.” U.S. Department of State. <http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppi/stats/stats_890.html>. 2. Avon, Natalie. “Why More Americans Don’t Travel Abroad” CNN. <http://articles.cnn.com/2011-02-04/travel/americans.travel.domestically_1_ western-hemisphere-travel-initiative-passports-tourism-industries>. 3. “ Young Americans Geographically Illiterate, Survey Suggests.” National Geographic. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/05/ 0502_060502_geography.html>. 4. “ Miss Teen USA 2007 South Carolina answers a question.” YouTube. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww>.

Contextus process book


Information + Exploration Initial Thesis Proposal April 19, 2011

The two possible, related areas I want to focus my thesis on are the tools and behaviors surrounding information and exploration. If information aids in learning, gaining knowledge and understanding, then the act of exploration facilitates orientation, experience, wisdom and perhaps adventure. These two concepts are connected and benefit each other. My hope is to investigate these ideas and develop interfaces and applications to help people gain knowledge and discover the world around them. My personal connection to this comes from my lifelong love of reading and learning (barring a few sullen, angst-filled teenage years). I’ve also nurtured a love of travelling and exploring, whether it was an adventure trip to South East Asia, or simply poring over maps of the world from the comfort of my living room. I have an ever-growing collection of books, maps and globes which I cherish. I also have a need to document my experiences and travels, partly in journal form, but mostly by taking lots of photos. Organizing them (particularly pre-digital photos) was always the tricky, time-consuming part.

Sites like Wikipedia or Google Earth have forever changed the way I search for information or explore points on a globe and I hope to add to that sense of wonder and what I like to call the “art of browsing”, getting lost (in the good sense of the word) while jumping from page to page. I wish to evolve the Google Maps concept by making geography a more personal, unique experience, tying it with individual travels and experiences. This is also related to devising new ways of visualizing information that anyone can use, whether its animated, editable, sharable or layered over reality.

My initial thesis proposal from the spring semester of my fist year. Although my thesis went through numerous changes in tone, format and content, I didn't end up straying very far from my original ideas or intents.

My inspiration comes from a wide variety of websites and physical objects: Google Maps, Google Analytics, Daytum, Mint.com, Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, Visual Thesaurus, TheyRule, geography games and apps, old atlases and globes, slide rules, learning wheels and encyclopedias. My goal is to encourage people through technology to be inspired to get up, travel, explore and learn about the world around them.

There are a few principles that I live by that can be applied to my thesis exploration. One is the desire to make complexity simple. Whether designing logos stripped down to the barest essentials or simply trying to get from point A to point B in the most direct fashion. Another is attention to detail, working on a very granular level to make the “big picture” experience as painless as possible. Lastly, is my love/hate relationship with technology; I love it for all of the new products and services it can provide, I hate it for the constant learning curve required and the overwhelming “technophobia” it can induce. For every new thing that technology gives us, I believe it takes something away. The challenge is how to best mitigate that.

One: Impetus

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This spread: some of the earliest scribblings in my constant companion, the thesis sketchbook.

not venture to new places. We may not discover. Technology may increase the opportunity for specificity, but does it decrease our chance for serendipity? APPROACH You might consider: • Consider where and when you’ve been lost in your city. • Where did you last have a memorable experience in your city? • When was the last time you asked someone for directions? For recommendations? • Where do you feel most creative in your city? • What you do to encourage more serendipity? You can take these and consider an approach you might take this summer to narrow in on a topic for the fall. Below are some further considerations for your review. RESOURCES EveryBlock http://www.everyblock.com/ A news feed for each block—crime data, news announcements, neighbor data, and more.

From: Danzico Liz <ldanzico@sva.edu> Subject: Re: my thesis proposal Date: April 23, 2011 4:12:25 PM EDT

COMMENTS What a wonderfully rich area for exploration. While there is a lot of work to do, you’ve identified — as we discussed in class — a moment in time both culturally and technologically that is motivating this sense of “getting lost” ness. Technology aids efficiency—it prevents us from getting lost; it allows us to locate the nearest restaurant; it helps us avoid traffic. Aided by services, we no longer need to depend on our neighbors. Yet that means we may not try new things. We may

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Flaneur Society http://flaneursociety.org/ The Flaneur Society was created in response to Walter Benjamin’s book Berlin Childhood around 1900. In it he explores the concept of the Flaneur, one who wanders without destination. NYPL Warper http://maps.nypl.org/warper/ The NYPL Map Rectifier is a tool for digitally aligning (“rectifying”) historical maps from the NYPL’s collections to match today’s precise maps. Hitoki http://hitotoki.org/ Hitotoki focuses on the internal experience maps people carry around with them connected with specific city locality. The project maps experience to public space. Every corner has a story to be investigated.

Contextus process book


Noticings http://noticin.gs/ Noticings are interesting things that you stumble across when out and about. Players are awarded points for things like spotting the first thing in a neighborhood, or noticing something every day for a week. Walking Papers http://walking-papers.org/ Walking Papers is a way to “round trip” map data through paper, to make it easier to perform the kinds of eyes-on-thestreet edits that OpenStreeMap data needs, as well as distributing the load by possible for legible, easy notes to be shared and turned into real geographical data. Google Maps India (Landmarks) http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/go-thatawaygoogle-maps-india-learns-to.html Describes routes in terms of easy-to-follow landmarks and businesses that are visible along the way. Overall, very much looking forward to how this will take shape. Best of luck.

This was the beginning of my year-long process of researching, reading, writing, interviewing, designing, prototyping, storytelling to ultimately create Contextus: an idea of maps going beyond just a navigational tool to an interactive way of explaining so much of the world, tying so many seemingly disparate subjects together. Contrary to Ms. Upton’s assertion that Americans don’t have enough maps, we have more maps and knowledge at our fingertips than ever before; certainly more than at any point in human history. This creates a paradox: despite the ubiquitousness of maps on websites and smartphones, we are more lost than ever, both in the literal and figurative senses of the word. Contextus is my attempt to solve this problem.

One: Impetus

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02

inspiration

“Both the blessing and the curse of our age are all the possibilities that are available.” —jake barton, local projects


Inspiration and a beginning

Previous spread: 1551 Map of Moscow by Giacomo Gastaldo.

Case in point, their controversial theory on the cause behind the dramatic drop in crime across the U.S. during the 1990s. Most experts attribute this reduction of crime to factors such as a strong economy and better policing tactics, something that Levitt disagrees with:

Wikimedia Commons

As I started my thesis process, my thoughts turned to various things that inspired me over the years. Visually, there were countless maps, diagrams, infographics and data visualizations that caught my eye for their aesthetic and execution. In terms of content and ideas, two books came to mind that changed my perspective on subjects I thought of as immutable: Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics for putting forth some radical theories that challenge conventional wisdom and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel for advancing the field of geography and giving it a human voice. I had read both previously and now was re-reading them as valuable jumping-off points for thesis brainstorming. Freakonomics probed the hidden side of everything by asking both questions with seemingly obvious answers (“What is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool?”) as well as questions without clear answers that sound like a preface to a bad joke (“How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real-estate agents?”). What it showed me is that the study of economics has the potential to go way beyond just finance; economics can be broad science concerned with the study of incentives, correlations and probability. It managed to take a subject generally perceived as dull and transform it into something insightful, entertaining and eye-opening.

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As far as crime is concerned, it turns out that not all children are born equal. Not even close. Decades of studies have shown that a child born into an adverse family environment is far more likely than other children to become a criminal. And the millions of women most likely to have an abortion in the Wake of Roe v. Wade—poor, unmarried, and teenage mothers for whom illegal abortions had been too expensive or too hard to get—were often models of adversity. They were the very women whose children, if born, would have been much more likely than average to become criminals. But because of Roe v. Wade, these children weren’t being born. This powerful cause would have a drastic, distant effect: years later, just as these unborn children would have entered their criminal primes, the rate of crime began to plummet. It wasn’t gun control or a strong economy or new police strategies that finally blunted the American crime wave. It was, among other factors, the reality that the pool of potential criminals had dramatically shrunk.1

This bold premise is the result of looking at the world in a different light, asking intelligent questions and peeling back the layers of life to understand underlying causes. Levitt and Dubner have summarized their view of economics with a few fundamental ideas, some of which I would later revisit during my thesis process: • • • •

Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. Dramatic effects often have distant, even subtle causes. Conventional wisdom is often wrong. “Experts”—from criminologists to real-estate agents—use their informational advantage to serve their own agenda. • Knowing what to measure and how to measure it makes a complicated world much less so.2 Equally inspiring, Guns, Germs and Steel examines 11,000 years of human history to show how societies evolved and why some gained critical advantage over others. The overarching message of

Contextus process book


A self-created chart showing what I anticipated would be my process and workflow for thesis. With this I could get an idea of the order certain tasks needed to be completed before moving onto the next one. Some aspects of thesis would be worked on in parallel.

this book is that human development and technology was directly influenced by one’s environment, not by superior intellect or genes. Available or existing flora, fauna and climate all were critical in civilization’s failures, successes and advancements. It made me aware of geography being much more than just landforms and physical terrain—it is the human impact on nature, nature’s impact on humans and how those influenced human interactions with each other. Of particular interest to me was Diamond’s explanation on why Europeans explored and colonized the Americas and not the Chinese: I saw an “Optimal Fragmentation Principle”: ultimate geographic factors that led to China becoming unified early and mostly remaining unified thereafter, while Europe remained constantly fragmented. Europe’s fragmentation did, and China’s unity didn’t, foster the advance of technology, science, and capitalism by fostering competition between states and providing innovators with alternative sources of support and havens from persecution.3

content Purpose

Pitch

Goals

tone Audience

Diamond continues to explain that China’s political, linguistic and social unity allowed a single emperor to make the decision to withdraw seafaring Chinese explorers from distant travel, which affected that entire vast country. Meanwhile, Columbus could petition for sponsorship of exploration to the aristocracy of several smaller, competing European kingdoms. Much of this contrasting unity or fragmentation is explained by Diamond as the result of physical geography. These concepts would later influence the content of Contextus and the questions it attempted to answer.

Context

Content

Use cases

Naming

Features

Branding

Task flows

format Wireframes Design

1. Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: William Morrow, 2005. p.6. 2. Ibid., pp. 13–14. 3. Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997. p.430.

Two: Inspiration

Visual

Interaction

Story

Presentation

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More inspiration & influences

Near right: Berg London for communicating history and current affairs with smart interactive visualizations that take large quantities or abstract concepts and relate them to oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s personal experiences. www.howbigreally.com Far right: Hans Rosling and his Gapminder organization for making statistics understandable, exciting and sexy. www.gapminder.org/videos/the-joy-of-stats

Near right: Nicholas Felton for teaching us the value of data visualizations that are not only accurate and beautiful, but can tell a meaningful story as well. www.feltron.com Far right: The Container Corporation of Americaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 1952 World Atlas designed by Herbert Bayer. I managed to find a copy on eBay, a pioneering example of information design as applied to cartography.

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Contextus process book


Near left: SimCity, the city-building simulation video game. Electronic Arts. www.simcity.com Far left: Isotype visual library created by Otto Neurath as means to illustrate statistics across cultures through a pictoral language. Otto Neurath: The Language of the Global Polis by Nader Vossoughian

Near left: Map your moves, a visual exploration of where New Yorkers moved in the last decade. http://moritz.stefaner.eu Far left: Keiichi Matsudaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Augmented (hyper)Reality: Augmented City www.keiichimatsuda.com

Two: Inspiration

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Planning a start, starting a plan

My thesis schedule illustrated in two different views: a gap analysis spreadsheet (right) to identify and check off any outstanding thesis requirements and an iCal calendar (opposite) to keep track of all the various milestones and appointments.

Armed with a general thesis topic, I began to formulate a plan of attack. We received our yearâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s schedule full of milestones and target deadlines for each step of our thesis. Liz supplied us with a gap analysis form that needed to be filled out and updated on a regular basis to serve as a dynamic checklist, keeping track of our workload. Planning my schedule in iCal set (mostly) firm dates with alert reminders, while using the project management software Merlin allowed me to see what requirements needed to be fulfilled before moving forward. For my own clarity, I drafted a simple workflow diagram showing which steps are completed sequentially and which steps take place in conjunction with others, organizing my thesis process into the three main areas of content, tone and format.

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February 2012 Sunday

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Festival Takeaway design Process book design

… skype with shawn 12:00 PM video 6:00 PM video shoot:

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Thesis! Milestones Implementation Path draft due Storytelling workshop Present user journey Individual conferences with Liz In-class presentations, feedback Present reďŹ ned prototype Stephen Nickson speaking workshop

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Individual conference with Liz Presentations for peer review Thesis defense Dress rehearsal Thesis Festival

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Thesis schedule rendered from Merlin project management software. Various phases and their prerequisites are identified, prioritized and allotted an estimated amount of time.

Two: Inspiration

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research

“Process does not have rounded corners.” — liz danzico


Summer 2011 reading

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Over the summer, during my commute to and from my job designing for Project Projects, I read quite a bit to start thinking more about thesis. These books illustrated the central themes of my initial thesis proposal: information and exploration. While not centered around geography per se, they each touched upon related ideas of travel, the clash of civilizations, intelligence and information over vast geographic areas, our control over technology and the control technology has over us. I supplemented this reading with more practical instructional books on prototyping and software skills such as Processing, AfterEffects and designing gestural interfacesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;skills that I thought I would eventually need during the production phase of thesis.1

disruptive technologies end up being dominated by a huge monopoly. It clearly warns how the internet could follow the path of telephone, radio, film and television, where innovation is stifled for the sake of profit. Shaping Things moved my train of thought from the past into the future by describing a world, already in progress, where all mass-produced objects will be able to communicate with us and with each other, providing an unfathomable amount of information. Finally, You Are Not a Gadget confirmed my suspicions that by becoming mindless consumers of digital lifestyle, we spend way too much time working for computers instead of the other way around.

Reading Over the Edge of the World and Genghis Khan reminded me why I love history and how studying the past helps me to understand the present and anticipate the future. Exploring the unknown, the spread of culture, trade, ideas (and disease), usually by force, are all major parts of geography and its impact upon human history. These two books provided a more specific view of history that expanded on what Guns, Germs and Steel started. The Master Switch illustrated the historic cycle of how new

1. As my thesis evolved and shifted, I ended up not needing to use any of these particular skills or toolsâ&#x20AC;Ś but it was good to be prepared.

Contextus process book


Fall 2011 reading

The fall semester began in earnest by taking what I had read over the summer about information and exploration and filtered it through a geographic lens. Before an improvement could be made to geography or cartography, those two studies needed a clear definition—derived from research as well as formed by own personal conviction. Over the next few months, over a dozen books were read, some more useful than others, to gain some insight. Maphead was a good introduction to the world of maps and geography, written in a personal narrative style by the former Jeopardy champion and map-nerd Ken Jennings. His assessment of the relationship between maps and geography believes, Once a student is looking at a map, you can dive into how geography explains the map; why this city is on this river, why this canyon is deeper than that one, why the language spoken here is related to the one spoken there—even, perhaps, why this nation is rich and that one is poor.2

People tend to respect maps as trusted sources of information; as the technology for their medium evolved from paper to digital, we now rely on them more than ever. In other words, “…we count on our

Three: Research

maps to be up to the minute, but we like them venerable as well.”3 That trust in maps can be used for benevolent purposes as Jennings discovered in his interviews with the creators of Google Earth. They believe that maps developed with such advanced technology create an immersive world almost more real than the one we walk on; by zooming in on a satellite view of a traffic jam in Tehran, we can see that people halfway around the world, often shrouded in mystery, are not much different than ourselves.4 This increased knowledge brings about an increased understanding and may counter isolation felt between countries and cultures. The use of Google Earth as a tool for understanding context and relationships, physical and cultural, would later influence and guide my prototyping. Why Geography Matters would prove to be an even more valuable resource. In it, geographer Harm de Blij boldly states that learning geography provides unique analytical insights into our shrinking world and better prepares us for three challenges that we currently face: the rise of China, global terrorism and climate change. De Blij adds that America’s geographic illiteracy puts our national security at serious risk...

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Geographic insights can be crucial in addressing geopolitical problems; they are needed also in decision making in spheres ranging from the cultural to the economic. We need to make better use of maps, to exploit the new technologies that have transformed cartography from illustration to interactive.5

Throughout this book’s chapters, de Blij discusses “the burden of boundaries” between nations, moving from physical boundaries to those man made, Boundaries, then, must serve multiple purposes ranging from immigration regulation to resource allocation and from airspace control to maritime security protection… We all know how divisive and disruptive they can be, but they are here to stay, even when serious attempts are under way to reduce their impact through multinational agreements and treaties.6

This theme of artificial borders imposed on our natural ones, would guide me to Borderlines: author Frank Jacob’s weekly column in the New York Times all about the histories and intricacies of borders7. With each column, Mr. Jacobs would dive into painstaking detail the story of one particular border in the world—its history, conflict, uniqueness, and often its absurdity. Since artificial borders, often imposed by colonial force on a local populace, are the cause of so many of the world’s problems and conflicts today, it was fitting to learn more about this major facet of geography. Returning to the challenge of defining a subject before attempting to improve it or solve its existing problems, I present both Jennings and de Blij’s versions of what exactly geography is… Even at just a glance, a map can reveal what no amount of description can. Maps are the language of geography, often the most direct and effective way to convey grand ideas or complex theories. Geography deals with the natural as well as the human world… Geographers do research on glaciations and coastlines, on desert dunes and limestone caves, on weather and climate, even on plants and animals. We also study human activities, from city planning to boundary making, from wine growing to churchgoing. To me, that is the best part of geography; there’s almost nothing in this wide world of ours that can’t be studied geographically.8

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Jennings offers a more humorous example of the same answer: Imagine the poor geographer trying to explain to someone at a campus cocktail party exactly what he or she studies. “Geography is Greek for ‘writing about Earth.’ We study the Earth.” “Right, like geologists.” “Well, yes, but we’re interested in the whole world, not just the rocky bits. Geographers also study oceans, lakes, the water cycle…” “So its like oceanography or hydrology.” “And the atmosphere.” “Meteorology, climatology…” “It’s broader than just physical geography. We’re also interested in how humans relate to their planet.” “How is that different from ecology or environmental science?” “Well it encompasses them. Aspects of them. But we also study the social and economic and cultural and geopolitical sides of—” “Sociology, economics, cultural studies, poly sci.” “Some geographers specialize in different world regions.” “Right, we have Asian and Latin American studies programs here, but I didn’t know they were part of the geography department.” “They’re not.” (Long pause.) “So, uh, what is it you do study, then?”9

I personally have come to view geography as a way of connecting people to places or even people to each other—interactions determined by one’s surroundings. Geography shows that events, whether natural or man-made, have some context to the world around them. Maps simply give it form, a point of reference, a picture that is worth a million words. 2. Jennings, Ken. Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks. New York: Scribner, 2011. p.49. 3. Ibid., p.83. 4. Ibid., pp.224–225. 5. Blij, Harm J. Why Geography Matters: Three Challenges Facing America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. p.48. 6. Ibid., p.116. 7. Jacobs, Frank. “Borderlines”, New York Times. <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/borderlines>. 8. Blij, pp.5–6. 9. Jennings, p.46.

Contextus process book


Three: Research

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Contextus process book


Geographic illiteracy

One term that I came across over and over again during my research was geographic illiteracy. This concept is similar to technological illiteracy, where despite the ubiquitousness and ease-of-use of computers today, many people cannot think critically when using them and often fail to understand the concepts and structures behind it, often leading to poor judgment. Geographic illiteracy is a much broader problem than simply not knowing state capitals or failure to locate a particular country on a map or globe. It can be defined as a lack of understanding how the world is interconnected and how cumulative impact decisions made by millions of people around the world can be far-reaching1. In other words: Geographic Illiteracy is the inability to comprehend, understand and make intelligent decisions at all scales of human settlement patterns. Geographic Illiteracy is an individual and collective malady that limits the ability of individuals and groups to function in the economic, social and physical spheres of contemporary human activity 2.

Namely, if someone cannot locate a particular place on a map, they most likely cannot understand the people and history of that place, how their environment shaped them and how it shaped their relationship to their neighbors. This ignorance is lampooned in satirical faux-atlases and textbooks such as The Onion’s Our Dumb World and Jon Stewart’s Earth (The Book). Despite the jokes, there is a very real problem of people (Americans in particular) not knowing or caring to know much about the rest of the world. It affects everything from our educational system to foreign policy. Maps are the communications tool that provides context to current events. In a speech delivered to the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS), Don Imus, creator of the The Essential Geography of the United States of America wall map, stated his goal of fighting geographic illiteracy. When we read that half of all Americans ages 18–24 can’t locate New York City on a US map and when 25% of Dallas high-school students cannot name the country that borders the United States to the south, there is a looming crisis at hand. Imus spent years crafting a comprehensive map of the U.S. which adds more depth, clarity, fidelity, and realism than any of its competitors. Slate called it “The Greatest Paper Map of the United States That You’ll Ever See”3 and it won “best in show” from The Cartography and Geographic Information Society

Three: Research

(CaGIS). His aim is simple, to make geography more compelling and relevant: North Americans are embarrassed by geographic illiteracy, and it will never occur to them that they could come to us looking for help. So if we want the people of this continent to enjoy, as cartographers do, the benefits of geographic literacy, the process of making that happen must begin with us, the makers of basic tool.

Opposite: Detail view of Don Imus’s superb example of legible, informative cartography: The Essential Geography of the United States of America. Imus Geographics

So let’s rise to the occasion and take our discipline to a higher level. Let’s embrace the art of our discipline and let’s dedicate our discipline to the cause of universal literacy in geography, literacy which will enrich lives and make all North Americans better informed citizens of the world.4

In this age of digital maps on our phones and GPS systems in our cars, it is interesting to see a paper map get this kind of attention. While certainly more information could populate and easily be updated on a digital map, the old-fashioned variety teach us to think and analyze the information better for ourselves. The answers to our questions aren’t spoon-fed to us through a printed map which sharpens logic and critical thinking skills5. If maps are the language of geography, then what exactly is being said? Geography is much more than just spatial relationships of towns or nations—it is history, economics, politics, science, demographics and much more. This valuable insight would prove to be a guiding tenet in shaping Contextus. 1. Edelson, Daniel C., PhD. “Geo-Literacy” National Geographic Education. <http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/news/geo-literacypreparation-far-reaching-decisions>. 2. R isse, E. M.. “Geographic Illteracy.” Bacon’s Rebellion. <http://www.baconsrebellion.com/oldsite/Wonks_Risse_geographic_illiteracy.php>. 3. Stevenson, Seth. “The Best American Wall Map: David Imus’ ‘The Essential Geography of the United States of America’.” Slate Magazine. <http://www.slate. com/articles/arts/culturebox/2012/01/the_best_american_wall_map.html>. 4. Imus, David. “Geographic Literacy for all North Americans.” Imus Geographics. Oct. 12, 2011. <https://s3.amazonaws.com/imusgeographics_resources/NACIS_ speech_03.pdf>. 5. For a humorous example illustrating the dangers of relying on computer-aided navigation, see: Wise, Jeff. “How GPS Makes Clueless Drivers.” Jeff Wise Blog. Sept. 20, 2011. <http://jeffwise.net/2011/09/20/how-gps-makes-clueless-drivers>.

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IBM Think exhibit

The 123-foot digital wall displays realtime visualizations about local traffic on Broadway, solar energy, and air quality. IBM.com

In October 2011, Lincoln Center hosted the wonderful exhibit IBM THINK. Outside leading to the exhibit was a 123-foot long data wall displaying live information from the surrounding area while inside were immersive films and interactive display panels, with the purpose of showing the ways in which technology can improve our lives. Although this was a marketing tool for IBM to showcase their century of achievements describing how they will save the world one microchip at a time, it made a compelling case, both in terms of content and execution. The storytelling, technology, graphic, environmental and interaction design were beautifully interwoven to create a single engaging experience.

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Their systematic approach to progress was described in five criteria: seeing, mapping, understanding, believing and acting. Of particular interest to me was the mapping theme, organizing loose bits of information into highly structured data. A three-by-five foot touchscreen panel allowed visitors to explore the mapping theme which was divided into ten categories, each with a historical and contemporary example: • • • • •

Maps aid navigation Maps reveal scale Maps depict change Maps save lives Maps track flow

• • • • •

Maps reveal structure Maps show hierarchy Maps track resources Maps structure knowledge Maps organize time

Contextus process book


In addition to the data wall, the exhibit also consisted of an immersive film and dozens of touch screen media panels for visitors to discover how technology has made the world better. IBM.com

Although none of these statements were exactly revelations to me, I suspected that most people would only have been aware of the two items in this list, an assumption that I would later test during my primary research (see page 39). It was helpful to see these cartographic concepts spelled out and organized into a list—a list that I could later reference to structure the functions and use cases of Contextus. Pairing historical mapping examples with contemporary ones, such as the world’s first corporate organization chart (Erie Railroad Company, 1855) compared to the structure of the internet circa 2007, proved to be a valuable history lesson showing that mapping tools and concepts have existed for centuries1. The technological medium for delivering this information is constantly changing and therein lies the opportunity for advancing

Three: Research

geography. Wheras maps were once state-guarded secrets available only to the few and the powerful, now anyone with a smartphone has nearly infinite access to a world of knowledge. Where we once mapped only territories, we now can map networks, conversations, and even maps themselves2.

1. A more detailed description and video of the exhibit can be seen here: <http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/thinkexhibit>. 2. A brams, Janet, and Peter Hall. “Where/Abouts.” Else/where: Mapping New Cartographies of Networks and Territories. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Design Institute, 2006. pp.12–17.

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A marriage of data and aesthetics

Right: Stamen’s interactive Crimespotting map for Oakland shows crime locations in real-time and discover patterns of criminal activity. Stamen Far right: Million Dollar Block project visualizes where concentrations of felons in Brooklyn once lived. Columbia University, Spatial Information Design Lab

A great aspect of SVA’s Interaction Design program is the opportunity to see so many talented and influential people in this field speak at our department’s lecture series On the Verge curated by fellow student Michael Yap. In January 2012, the first lecture of the semester would invite a pair of speakers whose work and discussion seemed almost tailor-made to my thesis: Mike Migurski and Sarah Williams. Migurski is a partner and the Director of Technology at Stamen, a San Francisco-based studio known for their civic-minded data visualizations and development of open-source mapping tools. Williams is currently the Director of Columbia University’s Spatial Information Design Lab, which concentrates on connecting social data with geography. The format for these talks has changed a bit from past events. Gone is the lecture podium and monologue. Equipped with a couch, pairs of speakers are invited to introduce, analyze and discuss each other other’s work in a moderated conversation. This approach to dialogue made for a more informative, relaxed experience. Mike spoke about Sarah’s project Million Dollar Blocks1 which visualizes on a map of Brooklyn where concentrations of prisoners once resided in the borough. These locations are color-coded to reflect the amount of government expenditure per capita for transporting and incarcerating these residents. What this map illustrates in an almost perverse way, is where these residents are densely clustered on the map are not only some of the poorest parts of New York City by household income, but also some of the most expensive to maintain in terms of dealing with convicted felons. Its aim is to raise the questions about incarceration and how money could be better spent within the criminal justice system.

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Sarah then presented Stamen’s Crimespotting map2 for Oakland, California, their tool for better understanding crime in that city. The premise under which Stamen approached this project was that public information should be made public. Crime data already existed, but it was either for police and other government agencies, or it was cumbersome, unwieldy and hard to find, buried under a myriad of links. What Crimespotting visualizes in real time where crimes are happening in various neighborhoods, giving the user the ability to filter by date, time of day or the type of crime. With this information, one can look for individual crimes, seeing broader patterns and trends of crime over time. What both of their projects shared was a marriage of data and aesthetics, design and technology to address important issues. Whereas Crimespotting focuses on the crime itself, Million Dollar Blocks investigates the repercussions for the perpetrator and their community. Both projects have garnered attention through their advocacy to these issues to the powers that be: police departments, legislators, community boards and the mayor’s office. A question about data neutrality was asked by an audience member—namely, is there any bias within these maps? Migurski and Williams ended the talk with this shared belief and great insight: “Data is never neutral. There is no such thing as raw data.” 3

1. <http://www.spatialinformationdesignlab.org/projects.php?id=16>. 2. <http://oakland.crimespotting.org>. 3. M igurski, Mike. “On the Verge: Mike Migurski and Sarah Williams”. School of Visual Arts, New York City. Jan. 20, 2012. Lecture.

Contextus process book


Vox populi—the survey

My email request for help and a sample question found on the survey which focused not only on geography, but also news and information searches and knowledge retention.

During my research and early inspiration, I felt that I was designing my thesis for myself. While not forbidden per se, the mark of a useful product and enduring thesis exploration should have a life beyond just its creator. Contextus’ potential target market is still a wide demographic—basically anyone with a question that could be answered through a geographic lens (using the broadest definition of ‘geography’). This tool could be geared towards school children or modified for research professionals and everyone in-between. Primary research was important to conduct in order to learn how people search for information and how or why they use maps or view the subject of geography. With this in mind, I sent out a survey to over 100 people to better learn how they currently search for information, get their news, share and organize their findings, and gauge their trust level in various types of information media1,2. Admittedly, these results are not representative of society as a whole; the majority of survey participants are between 25–45 years old, well-travelled, and with a college-level education or higher. Nevertheless, the answers were interesting and will be valuable as I start to list my assumptions about how people find

Three: Research

information, think of geography and use maps. One genuine surprise in these answers was the number of people that use Twitter to not only find answers to their questions, but get their daily news from it as well. As someone who has been critical of Twitter in the past, I found this insight make me rethink the value of news delivered through a social network. Here are some highlights from the 61 people that responded… • In general, the older respondents use websites, newspapers and TV to find info and get their news more than mobile or tablet devices. The opposite is true for the 25–35 crowd. • Do they find “going down the rabbit hole” while searching for info to be beneficial? Most do, citing curiosity, intellectual gratification, deeper insights, greater context, correlations, counterpoints and intersecting topics as factors. Some felt it has the potential to be a waste of time if there is “high noise to low signal”. • Primary sources of news had some expected answers (overwhelmingly NYTimes.com, CNN, BBC) with some unexpected ones (Twitter, Fox News, Colbert Report!)

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What medium(s) do you use to find information or read the news? All of the time

Frequently

Occasionally

What level of depth do you engage in when trying to find answers or learn more about a news story?

Not at all

39.3% Long article

60% –

40% –

41.0% Short article

20% –

3.3% Read entire book

0% – Website

SurveyMonkey proved to be a powerful tool to create an online survey and analyze the results. The information gathered could be displayed / exported as spreadsheet files or as charts and graphs. The graphs presented here are cleaned up versions of the originals, but the values remain consistent.

Mobile app

Tablet app

Magazine

Newspaper

TV

Radio

Friends & Family

16.4%

Coworkers

• P  eople rarely find what they’re looking for right away • Participants expressed interest in art & design, current affairs, technology, politics, history, fashion, entertainment and music. They claimed knowledge and/or expertise in many of the same areas. • Presented with words, photos, charts/tables and maps, most people placed the greatest trust in maps (I asked this specific question based on one of my expert interviews, see page 56).

Brief summary

• R  easons given for the benefits of improving geographic knowledge were mainly about having a better understanding of cultures and world events, being less self-centered, being more willing to take risks, gaining inspiration for travel, and looking less like an idiot during conversations with others. Finally, this great insight from the optional comments on the even vaguer and more open-ended question of “Maps are…” “…a great way to lie if you know how.”

• T  he pop-quiz’s mystery nation was Kazakhstan, which 13 people (21%) got right. Five other people admitted cheating to find the answer, another 13 people guessed Russia, and one person almost guessed correctly with “I-don’t-know-istan”. Interestingly enough, two out of three people who in the previous question claimed their geographic knowledge was “excellent” got this country wrong. • By a wide margin, Google was the most popular choice for navigating or wayfinding (or just finding answers) compared to GPS devices, paper maps or atlases or any competing online mapping services. • When asked the intentionally vague and open-ended question of “geography is…?”, my favorite reply was the succinct “a location-based understanding of a variety of data”.

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Analyzing just the respondents who claim to use Twitter for their information search, news gathering and sharing, one can see from the charts below, they tend to be younger, also read the New York Times online and are versed in technology. Knowing this would be beneficial to my approach on user assumptions and prototyping. Of even greater value was the realization that technology and maps, no matter how well developed or designed, are no substitute for experiencing life, traveling or interacting with people directly… an idea best summed up by one of my classmates in this survey: “Geography has little meaning to us if it just lives on a map.”

1. The original survey questions can be found here: <https://www.surveymonkey. com/s/X3KFVTG>. 2. T he complete survey results can be found here: <http://isotope221.com/tumblr/ survey/results/SurveySummary.html>.

Contextus process book


For current affairs and breaking news, what is your source (print, online, or TV)?

78.7%

NYTimes.com CNN.com BBC.com Huffington Post Google News NY Times (paper) CNN (tv) MSNBC (tv) Yahoo News BBC (tv) MSNBC.com Fox News (tv)

13.1% 9.1% 8.2% 5.6% 4.9% 4.9% 4.9%

34.4% 29.5% 27.9% 26.2%

What do you use to share information or news stories?

60 –

85.2% 40 –

52.5%

45.9% 29.5% 29.5%

20 –

23.0% 3.3%

0– Email

What is your level of trust in...?

Twitter

Facebook

SMS

Phone call

Blog

Delicious

Maps... [fill in the blank]

100% –

A lot of trust Some trust Little trust

80% –

Visualize information

Are worth a million words

60% –

Other...

40% –

Don’t interest me at all 20% –

Get me from point A to point B

0% – Text

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Photos

Charts & tables

Maps

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Competitive analysis

Right: Drawing X-Y axes on a whiteboard and rearranging the same set of eleven post-its for eleven different analyses proved to be an effective method to determine what specific characteristics Contextus should have.

Opposite: detail of the spreadsheet that organized all the information gathered on competing products.

An integral part of developing a product or service for thesis, included the need to identify and analyze the competition. While my goals for thesis were still vaguely defined at this point, there appeared to be no direct competition, although there are certainly some adjacencies it shared with existing products, in terms of either use, functionality or its look & feel. Conducting this exercise allowed me to see how other products are innovating and where they fall short. By not just looking at them, but spending some time using each of them, I could critique their purpose, set of functions and how the user interacts with it to try and achieve a goal. By doing so, I can now better gauge what functions or tasks I need to include for my audience. Another benefit of conducting a competitive analysis is recognizing the often abstract, hard-to-quantify traits found in other productsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the soft science of branding. Listing other productâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s brand qualities helps to determine where I aspire to have Contextus fit into this competitive landscape.

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I identified ten (somewhat) competing products that fall in the categories of either information searches or map-based interfaces (sometimes both). Nine of them are websites (some with mobile versions), and one is exclusively an iPad app. While there are countless more products similar to these ten, I picked the ones that were either the most well-known or best defined the niche in which they operate. In a spreadsheet, I described each product in a summary sentence or two, listed their features, their pros & cons and how they could be improved on by my own criteria and goals. While some products were listed because of my own personal daily use of them (Google Maps, Wikipedia), others were more limited in nature and provided a great example of what I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t want my thesis to become (wikimapia, historypin).

Contextus process book


Google Maps

Google Earth

Wikipedia

Quora

What Was There

History Pin

Wikimapia

URL

http://maps.google.com/

http://www.google.com/earth/

http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Main_Page

http://www.quora.com

http://www.whatwasthere.com/

http://www.historypin.com/

http://www.wik

Summary

Free online mapping and technology platform that powers both Google's mapping services, as well as third-party websites and mobile services.

Virtual globe application that superimposes satellite and aerial imagery onto a GIS globe.

The preeminent online, multilingual, A question and answer website collaborative encyclopedia. It is the edited and maintained by its user largest and most popular general community. reference website. Ask real people for answers to your questions.

Ties historical photos to Google Maps, allowing one to compare street scenes then & now.

User-generated archive of historical photos and personal recollections. Users are able to use the location and date of an image to "pin" it to a map.

Collaborative that combines a Wiki system add informatio note to any po

• different views: satellite, streets, terrain • provides multi-point, multitransport mode directions • StreetView shows 360° panoramic photos at street level • displays geo-contextually located user-generated photos • maps the Moon and Mars as well • Google LatLong blog extends usage and functionality of the maps • WebGL allows rendering of buildings in 3D with dynamic shifting perspective and "swooping" animation • Google Maps API allows 3rd-party developers to create content overlaying base of Google Maps • can embed Google Maps in any website • integration with Google's search engine • maps redraw information depending on zoom level • good attention to visual design and cartography details • Mercator projection distorts land areas and sizes • Censorship (Naval Observatory DC), ommissions (N. Korea), and accuracy issues • WebGL requires more processing power than most computers have to run smoothly • High bandwidth required for most functions • privacy issues with StreetView • better display of information in conjunction with the map • use for purposes other than navigation and way finding • make APIs easier to use for non programmers • offer a choice in map projections

• can view or create tours • turn on/off layers of information • Google Sky: look into space • Google Moon, Mars • Flight Simulator tool/game • can overlay photos, add links/text

• 21 million articles (3.8 million in English) • 100,000 regular active contributors • available in 283 languages • browse featured articles, current events, random article or search specific subject •

• browse by topic, people or question • ask a question directly; see related questions • promote questions or answers you feel are useful to the Quora community • share questions on TW and FB • "boards" to organize your questions, people to follow

• Search by subject, year or location • Compare old photos to current street view map • Curated tours • Collections by photo source

• Draw polygo of map to add • 1 million+ us places marked • multi-lingual • info boxes fe backward nav • can add pho

• covers most of the Earth • ocean floor views • easy to use controls and UI • detailed lat/long/elevation/compass readings • Earth Gallery show pre-made thematic maps • overlay historic maps onto current globe (like NYPL's Map Warper) • turn on/off sun or atmospheric effects • truly get a good sense of the size of the Earth and its spatial relationships • can view Google Maps within Google Earth window

• has a system of checks and balances to ensure reliability, accuracy and neutral point-of-view for written or edited articles • articles provide references, related Wikipedia entry links as well as external links • its free • anyone can become an editor • Wikimedia Commons has a database of over 12 million media files (photos, audio, video) to compliment articles • has sister projects such as WikiNews, WikiBooks, Wikionary, WikiQuote, etc.

• have to sign in / register with your real name not avatar, ensures better accountability • can see people's credentials (profession, education, experience) • nice, understated design / UI • over 200,000 active monthly users to help answer your question • bad, redundant questions or answers are aggregated/moderated/edited by community • credit system encourages people to be more active in the Quora community; prevents too many questions and not enough answers

• easy to explore • easy to upload/edit/place photos • intuitive UI • good visual design • zoomed out map presents bubbles with number of photos in that location; clicking it zooms in • nearby photos/locations are always referenced in scrolling menu • organize your photo uploads by year, title, recently added/edited

• easy to use • intuitive UI, info layered over Google Maps feels familiar • nice visual design • include audio clips • 78,000+ photos • has companion mobile app • sense of online community • partners with libraries, historic institutions, museums

• easy to use • easy to edit/ • offers multip (including Ope • search funct

• privacy issues • rendering accuracy issues • uneven resolution from area to area • requires fast processor and high bandwidth to smoothly render "jumps" • Places, layers nested menu/UI a bit clumsy

• has bias towards pop culture articles • susceptible to vandalism, plagiarism, misleading writing, etc. • anyone can become an editor • crowdsourced content challenges professionally-generated content; "free trumps quality" • privacy, copyright issues

• user community mostly from techbased circles • most beneficial for answers that can be backed up with facts; objective NOT subjective answers • for subjective questions, might have to scroll down a lot to skip opinions • voting up or down answers seems like popularity contest; popular answers "win", not necessarily the right answers

• very basic information given • not geared to deeper learning; useful for just quickly comparing a pair of photos • can only explore other's photos by location (type in search or maneuver map); not by year, title, category • less personal than History Pin (neither good or bad) • can't view larger images in their entirety (only use rollover magnifying glass)

• info feels shallow; no deeper learning • stories are almost all personal anecdotes with little value to strangers • photos are not very large; can't zoom in or explore them • no connections or links to similar photos are offered (unless within a tour or collection)

• Only has loc the map (town • is a very liter Google Maps • feels like onl • offers nothin surface level • overlapping densely popu • clunky UI • bad visual d

• toggle layers on/off in a more interesting way / better animation • repurpose as a research tool to make spatial comparisons (i. e.: size and latitude of China vs. USA) • animate informational overlays and renderings ("build it")

• integrate information into a visual medium (when suitable) to show spatial relationships • have ability to compare & contrast two or more subjects that share certain measurable criteria • browse subjects by revealing or hiding "branches" within a hierarchical category tree • setup minimum criteria for writers/editors and display their credentials (like Quora)

• place answers on a map if they are geo-contextual • assign "power users" a quick to scan rating for helpful answers they provide; more indicative of their knowledge than number of followers • sort questions or topics visually, by classifying them in a taxonomy or hierarchical chart

• enlarge photo to full-screen • show connections between dots on the map (same subject, same year, same uploader, etc.) • provide text or links to deeper information

• enlarge photo to full-screen (require images uploaded to be a minimum size) • display vintage base maps under vintage photos/stories • make Google Earth-like "jump" from location to location • reformat for more in-depth stories, deeper learning • allow for side-by-side comparisons

• make it less directory and single-site-spe • integrate info with map

Features

Pros

Cons

how to improve?

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"A virtual time machine" [much like HistoryPin] • search by location • compare old photos of (usually) buildings to current Google StreetView (use fader) • explore photos by area • mobile app version uses augmented reality to superimpose old photos over what the user is actually viewing • export your data in XML format

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The competition

While the idea of Contextus has no direct competition, I identified ten products where there are some adjacencies or overlap in their subject matter, design, functionality or purpose.

Google Maps maps.google.com Free online mapping and technology platform that powers both Google’s mapping services, as well as third-party websites and mobile services.

Google Earth www.google.com/earth/ Virtual globe application that superimposes satellite and aerial imagery onto a GIS globe.

Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page The preeminent online, multilingual, collaborative encyclopedia. It is the largest, most popular general reference website.

Quora www.quora.com A question and answer website edited and maintained by its user community. Ask real people for answers to your questions.

What Was There www.whatwasthere.com Ties historical photos to Google Maps, allowing one to compare street scenes then & now... a virtual time machine.

History Pin www.historypin.com User-generated archive of historical photos and personal recollections. Users are able to use the location and date of an image to “pin” it to a map.

Wikimapia www.wikimapia.org Collaborative mapping website that combines Google Maps with a Wiki system, allowing users to add information in the form of a note to any point on the map.

Mondo Window www.mondowindow.com Web-based, in-flight, location-aware entertainment. Interactive map that turns your plane into a real-time geobrowser.

The World NatGeo app world.natgeoapps.com Spinning globe app that accentuates National Geographic’s unique cartography. Bridges the gap between classic print maps and interactive globes.

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Mannahatta Project welikia.org/explore/mannahatta-map Map visualization that compares modern Manhattan to the 1609 version as discovered by Dutch explorers.

After compiling this list of products and their descriptions, I started listing attributes that could be assigned to each of them. Some attributes such as visual design or UI apply to what a user would be seeing or experiencing with a product, while audience type or skill level apply to the user themselves. Creating matrices with X and Y axes, I paired two sets of attributes that were logical comparisons when placed together and could reveal the most insight. After placing post-it notes for each of these products, I thought about where I would like Contextus to fit within that particular space and why. The following are eleven competitive analyses that I made.

Contextus process book


wide

author atative Wikipedia

The World

Contextus

Quora

shallow

Contextus

deep

pa ssive

Wikimapia

narrow

History Pin

tr ansparency Manhatta Project

• •

usergener ated

What Was There Wikimapia

Contextus

• •

Google Contextus The World Earth

••

02: User engagement vs. product tone Some products are meant to be passively consumed, while others have very active users that help define or shape the product. Likewise, some products convey a democratic tone as opposed to an authoritative voice. I want Contextus to provide the tools for learning a particular subject so its user’s aren’t passively being told an answer, but rather actively engaged in find it out for themselves. Contextus should have an air of authority and credibility, but not to the point of being overbearing or condescending.

ac ademic

Quora

democr atic

01: Depth vs. breadth Comparing depth vs. breadth showed both the granularity of the product’s content and how wide-ranging their subject matter. Contextus strives to be both deep and wide, but realizing that not all subjects are geo-contextual, aims for a bit more depth.

Quora

ac tive

What Was There

••

Mondo Window Manhatta Wikimapia Project

Wikipedia

Wikipedia

History What Was Pin There

Google Maps

• •

Manhatta Project Mondo Window

Google Google Maps Earth The World

Google Earth

Google Maps

Manhatta Project

Google Earth

••

Quora

cur ated, edited

subjec tive

Mondo Window

••

Mondo Window

Google What Was There Maps

History Pin

History Pin

The World

objec tive

Wikimapia

Wikipedia

anecdotal

obscurit y

03: Content generation vs. content tone There are those products that exist only by the content that its users generate themselves and those that have written, edited or curated content already in place. This content can either feel personal or anecdotal (at worst, trivial) or it can feel academic and scholarly. Contextus may leave a little room for user-generated content, but is mainly curated by experts and definitely academic (with a dash of humor).

04: Content perception vs. content clarity One of the earliest goals I had for Contextus was for it to be as objective and clear as possible, allowing users to see where the information is coming from and the editors’ credentials.

Three: Research

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many fe atures

original design The World

Quora

Google Earth Google Maps

••

te x t ba sed

image ba sed

discon nec ted

integr ated

History Pin

Manhatta What Was Project There Wikimapia

Wikipedia

••

Quora

The World

••

Contextus

Mondo Window

Google Earth

Wikipedia

Google Maps

Contextus

Manhatta Project

History Mondo Pin Window

Wikimapia

fe w fe atures

••

What Was There

derivative design

05: Product presentation vs. functionality Part of Quora or Wikipedia’s charm is their lack of imagery or slick graphics, while other products focus on a visual presentation at the expense of in-depth information or content. Contextus strives to as visually dynamic and engaging as possible and still be rich with information. It should have as many functions as needed, but none more. What would its MVP (Minimum Viable Product 1 ) look like?

06: Product integration vs. originality Many of these map-based products overlay information on top of a Google basemap, or utilize its navigational UI. While this may look and feel familiar to users, it is derivative. Another big challenge is seamlessly integrating text and image together. Contextus hopes to be both original and integrated.

good visual design

e xpert The World History Pin Contextus

• •

Mondo Window

poor ui

Google Maps What Was There

Quora

Google Earth

Contextus

Manhatta Project

• •

good ui

Wikipedia

Wikimapia

poor visual design 07: Product UI vs. visual design These websites and apps either are well-designed or they’re not. Same applies to their UI. A visually unappealing website with frustrating controls or menus won’t warrant return visitors. Obviously, Contextus should be well-designed in every aspect. However, it might not necessarily be able to top National Geographic’s enduring ‘brand equity’.

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gener al audience

• •

Wikipedia

• •

Google Maps

Quora

specific audience

Google Earth

Manhatta Project The World History Mondo Pin Window

Wikimapia

• • •

What Was There

beginner 08: Audience definition vs. skill level Although I continually stated that Contextus would have a wide and varied audience, defining their skill level was a difficult exercise. Should it be ‘easy to learn but difficult to master’, or built on a succession of tests and skills similar to Code Academy?

Contextus process book


dynamic

indirec t answer (ac tive)

Contextus

The World

Mondo Window

Google Maps

Contextus

Google Earth

simple

comple x

navigation

Google Maps

History Pin Quora Manhatta What Was Project Wikipedia There Wikimapia

• •

The World

Google Earth

Mondo Window

••

Manhatta Project

History What Was Pin There

info query

Quora

Wikipedia Wikimapia

static

direc t answer (pa ssive)

09: Content presentation style vs. complexity Some products function like workhorses while others look like show ponies. Contextus should have a fun, lively style to its presentation of imagery and content while appearing effortless in delivering very complicated information.

10: Product purpose vs. approach As much additional functionality that Google Maps provide their users, its primary purpose is wayfinding—getting the user from point A to point B. Most products give their users direct answers, whether its directions on a map or the definition of quantum mechanics. Contextus will use geography and map-based interfaces to provide its users with the tools to find the answers themselves.

content cre ation

History Pin

• •

entertainment

Quora

What Was There

Wikimapia Contextus Google Maps Wikipedia Google Earth Manhatta The World Project

Mondo Window

educ ation

• •

content consumption 11: User/content engagement vs. content perception Finally, Contextus exists to be above all, educational (hopefully fun too) with its users consuming the majority of its content, contributing some of their thoughts to a discussion forum as well.

Three: Research

Analyzing all of these attributes proved to be a valuable exercise in determining what my thesis should be and how it should be perceived by its potential users. This perception carries over to all aspects of its brand: voice, tone, purpose, engagement and style. This became a precursor to the naming and branding that would later define the product.

1. For a more detailed explanation of minimum viable products, see: Lauguero, Greg. “Making Sense of Minimum Viable Products.” Johnny Holland: It’s all about interaction. Feb. 14, 2012. <http://johnnyholland.org/2012/02/making-sense-ofminimum-viable-products>.

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04

expert advice

“Most people are never told that you cannot always trust a map.” — leah meisterlin


Finding a thesis advisor: Shawn Allen

With all of my secondary research done, and the primary research underway, I began searching for a thesis advisor. I needed an expert who shared the same interests and passions as me, one with experience in building mapping products. This advisor would help me define my goals with clarity, edit my solutions and guide its execution. Most importantly, they would ask crucial questions of me and play Devil’s advocate by poking holes in my thesis. Remembering Liz Danzico’s criteria for successfully choosing the right advisor, I looked for someone based on their expertise, not just their reputation.

Above: Shawn Allen, Partner & Design Director, Stamen Stamen Right: Whittling down the list of possible thesis advisors. Previous spread: Manhattan map, 1775. New York Public Library

With Liz’s advice I narrowed down my list of potential advisors to about nine people, a few whom I already knew but most I had never met before. Some didn’t respond to my request, some were unavailable, while others were not local to New York. In my mind, it was imperative that my advisor should be someone I could meet with face-to-face, to collaborate with on a whiteboard or sketchbook in person. As I crossed off some names on the list, and realizing that I needed the best subject matter expert, location soon became increasingly irrelevant. As long as this individual was focused, knowledgable, affable and most important, available to meet each week, my thesis would benefit greatly. I ultimately asked Shawn Allen if he would be willing and able to be my advisor; luckily for me, he was both interested and available. As a partner and design director at Stamen in San Francisco, Shawn had the designer’s eye as well as programming chops that proved to be a valuable resource to me. His passion for geography and experience in data visualization was responsible for innovative client work (National Geographic, MoMA, CNN, MTV to name a few) and experiments with technology for Stamen’s own self-directed projects. Liz too felt that Shawn was the logical and obvious choice of thesis advisor, despite the physical distance. My concerns were quickly mitigated as we had regular weekly meeting via Skype. Once I got to know Shawn’s strengths (programming, UI design, verbalizing my ideas), he became a great second pair of ears and eyes for me, encouraging me when I needed it and challenging me when I deserved it. I learned some advanced javascript techniques from Shawn and the logic behind assembling data for a consumer-facing product. Giving Shawn a recap of my

50

weekly progress (or lack thereof) better prepared me for explaining my actions and decisions to others. Best of all, Shawn put me in touch with several other people—domain experts that I would later interview and gain unexpected insights from. As Shawn told me when I was struggling to define and express the essence of Contextus, “Text is a good medium for absorbing other people’s thoughts; maps are good for explaining spatial relationships that can’t be conveyed with just text. You need to find the sweet spot to get the benefits of both.” 1

1. Allen, Shawn. Skype interview. Feb. 7, 2012.

Contextus process book


Four: Expert Advice

Top left: Esquireâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Where Does the Money Go? Tracking migration pattern in the U.S. by analyzing tax returns.

Top right: Self-initiated Watercolor map applies raster area washes and organic edges over a dynamic base map.

migration.stamen.com

maps.stamen.com/watercolor

Bottom left: Surging Seas, illustrating the reality of climate change.

Bottom right: Storm Tracker visualization and map created for MSNBC.

sealevel.climatecentral.org

msnbc.msn.com/id/26295161

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Integrating the old with the new: Matt Knutzen

I’m ashamed to say that in all of my years living in New York, I never paid a visit to the New York Public Library’s Map Division. I was either too busy or too forgetful. With over 430,000 maps and 20,000 books and atlases, published from the 16th century to the present, the map room at the NYPL is truly an amazing resource for all things cartographic. I finally made my pilgrimage to one the city’s unique treasures. At Liz’s suggestion, I had made arrangements to visit Matt Knutzen, geo-spatial librarian, overseer of the library’s map collection and all-around cartography expert. What followed was an enthusiastic two-hour discussion of the collection, technology, my thesis exploration, and various NYPL projects between a pair of map nerds. Above: Assistant Chief, Map Division at New York Public Library. Right: Detail of Manhattan fire insurance map (Sanborn Map Company, 1910). digitalgallery.nypl.org

Part of his mission is to make a convincing case for people to look at the world through a geographic angle. A great example he told me was in helping the author of Black Gotham in her research of the American-American experience in nineteenth-century New York. He helped her trace the life journey of an individual not only spatially by his various addresses, but contextually too, using fire insurance maps to determine those addresses’ building construction qualities and insurance premiums—as barometers for wealth. In Matt’s words, the maps could tell the tale of social mobility.

Matt is responsible for the NYPL’s Map Warper1, a web-based application that allows the user to compare the past to the present through maps. Over 20,000 maps scanned from the library’s collection are placed over a Google street map with a transparency slider to shift focus back and forth. One can see places and streets from the past that no longer exist or have simply been renamed. Within a crowd-sourced framework, users are invited to “rectify” the maps themselves and turn pixels into coordinates. This project, among others, is part of the NYPL’s mandate to provide universal access to its wealth of information and knowledge to the public. Transcribing geo-spatial data from a wide variety of sources is one of Matt’s ongoing jobs. It involves finding any bit of information that is linked to place and time, whether it be building materials from a fire insurance map, names from an old phonebook, or vintage photographs, and organizing it for “spatial scholarship”. As he describes it, future uses could include studying the chemical composition of soil under Newtown Creek or learning the history of Chinese restaurants in New York. The ultimate goal is to create a new infrastructure of information for the library, facilitating research of all kinds while keeping it entirely open source. The more we talked, the more I realized how much we were thinking alike. To a certain degree, Matt’s descriptions of intended future projects for the library sounded not unlike my intentions for thesis: to be able to look at a map, zoom in and see everything else associated with that space through the lens of time. He described it as a chronology of place, hoping to “create a canonical entry of

52

geographic location that has a temporal frame to it”2, with the gazetteer as a key to accessing data from other places named in a historic way, “the universal translator of place names across time”.

We went on, discussing the aspects both of our various projects, and the value of faking it vs. making it. Matt pointed out that designing things that can’t be built yet establishes the vision that allows them to be built someday. My visit concluded with a brief tour of the collection, including a fascinating map of Manhattan published in 1775, just before Independence, depicting streets downtown long since replaced or renamed such as Queen Street or King George Street. I left the library with his pithy observation that sums up my entire thesis: “Maps are more useful than you think.”

1. <http://maps.nypl.org/warper>. 2. Knutzen, Matt. Personal interview. Jan. 27, 2012.

Contextus process book


Below left: Detail of the 1775 map of Manhattan. Note the pre-revolutionary nomenclature of Queen Street and King George Street. New York Public Library

Bottom left: The Map Warper in action. www.gothamist.com/2010/02/04/nypl_ maps_launches.php

Below and bottom right: NYPL’s Map Warper allows the public to superimpose historic maps from the library’s collection over current digital maps of the same location in order to “rectify” the past with the present. maps.nypl.org/warper

Four: Expert Advice

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Under the Mapfluence: Ian White

Its not easy conducting interviews, but it helps when you already personally know your subject and have rapport with them. I spent an hour talking to an old freelance client of mine, Ian White the founder and CEO of Urban Mapping for whom I helped design the award-winning Panamap (see page 9). His company has since moved to San Francisco shifting its focus from producing maps to aggregating geospatial data, working with high-profile companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo! and Mapquest to help them develop and visualize location-based content. What followed was a great conversation about searching for information through a geographic lens, how neighborhoods are defined, and the difficulty in finding good programmers. Founder and CEO of Urban Mapping, Ian White. Urban Mapping

Ian’s assumption is that there is latent geographic intent in every business function to some degree (marketing has sales territories, operations have factories, healthcare has hospitals and patients, etc.) which often doesn’t leverage geography to its full benefit. What Urban Mapping does is provide the tools to its clients to make geographic analysis easy and aid in business intelligence— an $10 billion industry according to Ian. Their flagship product Mapfluence1 enables businesses to build geospatial applications that are customizable, flexible and scalable with access to rich data and elegant cartography. Playing around with some of their demos, Ian explained a sample use query where some might find where the following intersect: • Per capita income between $80,000 to $120,000 • Elevation over 2,000 feet • Within 2 miles of a subway station • Political affiliation 65%+ democratic

Mapfluence will find where these criteria overlap and either visualize points on a map (including other visual representations such as a heat map) or create a report with a data list, whichever is more beneficial to the customer’s needs. As a firm believer in maps being worth a million words, I was surprised to hear that in many business situations, a list is far more beneficial for analytical results than anything strictly visual. But it makes sense when you think about meeting the end user’s goals.

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Of continuing interest to me is how we label maps, which could be seen as an extension of how we label our world. A big part of what Urban Mapping does is to define neighborhoods and their boundaries. Unlike city limits or Congressional districts, neighborhoods are often historically/socially/culturally defined which makes them inherently ambiguous—an informally delineated space. Living in Clinton Hill three short blocks away from the “border” with Fort Greene, I often say I live in both “Clinton Hill / Fort Greene neighborhood”. In my mind, there is no sharp dividing line separating the two and both areas have similar housing, retail and demographics. What Urban Mapping does is gather as much info about a city’s neighborhoods as possible from a wide range of sources: chambers of commerce, real estate listings, retail, hospitality, local media, city planning, etc. Armed with that data, Urban Mapping provides local relevance by, “L ooking at it cognitively, figuring out how do people want to engage in and make sense of their world. We’re not aiming for precision; we’re helping represent their mental model of the world. Neighborhoods can be messy and aren’t meant to be defined as neatly as zip codes.” 2

Appropriately enough, one reoccurring instance of a map’s labels not ever being updated to match reality is with the true extent of New York’s Chinatown. On most standard NYC tourist maps, Chinatown appears quite compact with roughly equal the size of Little Italy. In reality, Little Italy is just a few small blocks almost entirely devoid of its Italian population, while Chinatown in the last two decades has spread out significantly from its historic core into the Bowery and Lower East Side. The only way one might be able to realize this without being there, would be to consult a map of languages or ethnicities. By coincidence, Ian referred to mapping obesity rates to education, something similar which I questioned in a blog post about correlation and causation. He critiques “data-scientists” who have no formal training in statistics and leap to hasty conclusions based on the thinnest of correlations. Ian spoke at O’Reilly’s Strata conference to talk about the prevalence of “big data”, critiquing its abuse in business. Ian contends that big data isn’t new (used in Wall Street to analyze markets for decades), but cheaply available big

Contextus process book


Below: Urban Mapping’s original product, the analog and physical Panamap. The lenticular screen allows the user to see one of three different layers depending on viewing angle: streets, subways or neighborhoods.

Bottom: Mapfluence, a platform to enable businesses to easily build geospatial applications with access to a rich catalog of data and elegant cartography. urbanmapping.com/product/mapfluence

data and its democratization (and subsequent misuse) is. He points out to me that Urban Mapping is in the business of curating data to allow their customers to make better sense of it. Aside from their enterprise business solutions, Urban Mapping also develops some interesting lab projects created by what Ian refers to as their “hacker-in-residence”. This includes a fascinating one that maps historic and contemporary U.S. secessionist movements3 to a host of economic and health indicators, which was covered by The Guardian. If ever there was a preview of what I’d like to accomplish with thesis, this is an early indicator. We talked more about the future of information searching (“Siri is just a gimmick… but a great gimmick”), statistical innumeracy (“All maps lie!”), and adapting Urban Mapping products for educational purposes. I ended my interview by asking Ian if he has any interest in developing consumer-facing products. “None! I don’t understand consumers at all… I just don’t get them.”

1. <http://urbanmapping.com/product/mapfluence>. 2. Ian, White. Skype interview. Feb. 3, 2012. 3. <http://www.urbanmapping.com/map-gallery/secessionist-movements>.

Four: Expert Advice

55


Information ethics: Leah Meisterlin

“First, we all learn how to read; then we’re told you can’t trust everything that you read. We then learn math but later find out that you can’t always trust statistics. Very few people learn how to make infographics and even fewer learn how to make a map. Which means most people are never told that you cannot always trust a map.” 1

Architect, urban planner, geosocial data scientist, geographic information systems specialist, and cartographer Leah Meisterlin. www.leahmeisterlin.com

Election maps, information ethics, spatial justice and interpreting statistical data were just some of the topics discussed when I had the pleasure of interviewing Leah Meisterlin. Leah is a GIS specialist and cartographer whose work specializes in researching architecture, urbanism and the construction of social and political space. During our talk, it was clearly evident how strongly she felt about sloppy data visualization, misguided statistical correlations, over-reliance on GPS technology and being able to read between the lines on a map. Leah was the primary researcher for the Million Dollar Blocks project and a consultant for the Geography of Buzz2, both created by Columbia University’s Spatial Information Design Lab and she helped work on Urbanscale’s Urbanflow3. She described what she typically does as culling the information from a data set and allowing the viewer to make their own connections (a goal not unlike what I have in mind for thesis). Instead of just advocating a point of view or spinning an argument, her approach is to interrogate the data set to find the story within it. “I can make a map look any way I want it to. But I will do a statistically-heavy evaluation of the data in order to feel confident that what the map ends up looking like is the actual story inherent in it.”

Our talk turned to guidance for my own thesis. Her main advice for me was to limit the experience I want to present and give one example use case; choose a particular place and build the story from there. I took her advice and applied the single-story experience to a couple of my subsequent prototypes. As Leah pointed out, my thesis centers around the interaction that takes place—not compiling all of the geo-spatial data itself.

56

She suggested for me to find a story that links one place to another one far away and take the user on a journey. Then I can develop the map’s interface and design interactions that enhance the user’s knowledge base. The content of this project should be taken as a given—something I’m working with, not working on—so I can build an interface where the user can follow the information. When I expressed my questions about what form this would take, Leah pointed out what should have been self-evident to me: if bridging the gap between Google Maps and Wikipedia is one of my goals, then the format could easily be implied from that. I would probably have to make a special case for this being something other than a website. While I basically agree, I feel that there might be some missed opportunities if this doesn’t take advantage of all the sensors that an iPad provides. I asked Leah more about two terms I saw listed on her bio: information ethics and spatial justice. As I’ve heard from several people I’ve talked to, she too believes that all maps lie and it is the mapmaker’s responsibility to understand the power being wielded when you produce images that people are going to trust. She describes spatial justice simply as social justice where place matters, something that makes perfect sense once you realize that geography affects politics, history, economics and so on. We wrapped up our conversation talking about the history of maps being the history of power & knowledge, and people’s belief in the veracity of maps used in the media: “Liberals don’t trust Fox News, and conservatives don’t trust MSNBC… but everyone trusts a map!”

1. Meisterlin, Leah. Skype interview. Feb. 7, 2012. 2. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/07/arts/design/07buzz.html>. 3. <http://helsinki.urbanflow.io>.

Contextus process book


Series of political maps analyzing county-by-county where the Tea Party has candidates on the ballot. www.leahmeisterlin.com/current/2010/11/2

Four: Expert Advice

57


Jess Elder, Rosemary Daley & Boris Anthony

One of the benefits of having Shawn Allen as my advisor is being introduced to some interesting people working in the field of geography. Over the course of the spring semester, I spoke to Project Manager Jess Elder and Senior GIS Cartographer Rosemary Daley both of National Geographic, as well as Boris Anthony, Head of Design for Mobile Experiences at Nokia. We had some great conversations about maps, geo-spatial data, user experiences, the nitty-gritty details about map-making and naming conventions. Jess and Rosemary worked with Shawn and his partners at Stamen to produce the National geographic iPad app The World. Shawn mentioned this app earlier, so I had a chance to download it and explore its features before talking to them. Its a beautiful visualization that bridges the gap between classic print maps and interactive globes. One is able to switch between physical, political and ocean floor views—the latter being unique among the virtual maps and globes. Specific countries or regions can be selected for closer inspection with a side menu offering a description, facts & figures and photos from the Society’s amazing archive of images. As opposed to most web-based maps that redraw themselves as one zooms in or out—revealing or hiding certain details based on scale—these maps are static. They are taken directly from NatGeo’s unique and unmistakable cartography, and zooming in enlarges every design detail and consideration that went into creating these maps. Scanned in at 1200 dpi, one can see how certain colors overprint on the maps and the thought given to each icon’s placement on the map.

Top to bottom: Jess Elder, Rosemary Daley and Boris Anthony

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One of Jess’s responsibilities is ensuring certain metadata standards within a variety of content across multiple platforms (magazine, TV & film, digital media). This metadata recognizes that most photos and other content are relevant to both a specific time and place, and cataloging it correctly makes them searchable within the organization’s digital asset management system. An ongoing concern for Jess is how to tie things together through geography but not have it be the focus of what they’re creating— namely a framework for organizing all of their wonderful assets in ways that aren’t strictly maps and globes, yet still make sense to someone geographically:

“G eography is always one step removed from the user experience.” 1

Wondering if you could have too much of a good thing (maps in the case of my thesis), I asked Jess if, due to technology and their ubiquitousness, maps are now making us stupid. He thought so to a certain degree because of their availability, accessibility and the immediacy of the information presented on them. Jess’s point was that you never really have to look beyond the points on a map that you’re searching for and the localization of that search makes everything more immediate to your wants and needs. Following directions in a map not presented within their larger geographic context is akin to a horse wearing blinders—not seeing the full picture. He reiterated a common theme I’ve heard and assumed: that maps are trustworthy and if you put something on a map, people will believe it to be true. After describing my thesis intentions in my introductory email to him, Jess concurred that geography is an underlying construct behind what people do from design to engineering to everything else… its always there. A few days later I spoke to his colleague Rosemary Daley2 and she told me about National Geographic’s little-known mission programs—their non-profit divisions for geo-literacy and for education. This “geography alliance” works with schools to provide lessons plans and content ideas while lobbying for more geoeducation. She also went into detail about the map-making process and how as a cartographer, one of her primary duties is that of a researcher. This recently included the redrawing of the borders on maps for the newly-formed state of South Sudan and the work involved in being accurate to the scale they were representing the country. Both Jess and Rosemary told me that National Geographic observes a de facto naming policy for labeling their maps. Even though the U.S. state Department calls the country between Bangladesh and Thailand “Burma”, NatGeo follows convention by labeling it “Myanmar”. Other points of contention, such as how to color or label Taiwan in relation to mainland China, get an annotation in small red text. The organization itself apparently was threatened by Chinese diplomats visiting D.C. with a massive email campaign against them if they didn’t portray Taiwan the same color as the mainland.

Contextus process book


Below left: Combining physical and political views in a single view, National Geographic’s The World mobile app. Below right: Maximum zoom view of The World.

Bottom: Nokia’s 3D map of Boston, integrating aerial photography and satellite imagery into high-resolution interactive maps. Nokia

National Geographic

I only got to have a quick discussion with Boris Anthony at Nokia. Although he couldn’t go into great detail about his current projects, he described it as “how location relates to everyday life experiences”. His counterpart working in the web experiences lead the team that created the fascinating Nokia 3D Maps3 that I played around with last month. Nokia, he told me, has an extensive digital model of the world, whether its in 2D maps, 3D renderings or photos—and this model of the world can be put into your pocket. For now this website is for the desktop as the processing and internet connection needed to properly render a city is more than a phone could handle presently. But someday soon, Boris assured me, you will be able to hold up your phone and it will know where you are and what you’re pointing at and make augmented reality applications utilizing these 3D maps. We ended our conversation by discussing my thesis. Boris described part of what I’m trying to do as “culture mapping”, with geography as just one aspect of the knowledge and information that I’m mapping, “Fundamentally, you’re visualizing knowledge across multidimensional axes of geography and time to tell a story and to communicate some understanding.” 4

1. Elder, Jess. Skype interview. Feb. 15, 2012. 2. Daley, Rosemary. Skype interview. Feb 17, 2012. 3. <http://maps.nokia.com/3D>. 4. Anthony, Boris. Skype interview. Feb 18, 2012.

Four: Expert Advice

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05

early experiments

“For thousands of years, we mentally projected ourselves into maps; now map information has the ability to project itself outward, onto us.” — ken jennings, maphead


First steps: a paper prototype

In the midst of research and ideation, I felt a tremendous need to build something tangible to push thesis forward. These experiments are just that—experiments—falling short of being full-fledged prototypes. The reasons are several. For one, the planning and execution of them was short and the turnaround quick. Some of them were testing a certain technological hack, others were giving a bit of life to a simple UI element or playing with scale. A few were past or concurrent projects from other classes that I had revisited. My concepts were not fully realized yet at this point and therefore lacking any hypotheses to test through the framework of an actual prototype. Nevertheless, there were some insights and opportunities to be gained from this early work. Previous spread: Documenting my classmates’ travels and countries of origin with the paper map prototype. Right: Initial sketch for this paper wall map experiment, a test for designing a large-scale interface as well as gauging people’s interest in geography.

Perhaps influenced and excited by my Public Interfaces class (see page 70), early on I envisioned my thesis being large-scale, communal, and in a public setting—an escape from all of the websites, apps and small screens that I’ve designed in the past. This first experiment was a six-foot by three-foot printout of a world map used as a framework to observe how people would interact with it in a public setting. It was hung on a wall at the studio where the kitchen, lounge and classroom meet; in other words, a hightraffic area. Simple instructions urged passersby to label the world with different colored stickers: red dots for the place one was born, yellow dots indicating where they lived, blue dots for places visited and green dots as a sort of “wildcard” to indicate anything they wanted. Much to my surprise, a crowd quickly gathered and filled up the map with dots1.

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What did I learn? • People seemed to enjoy using this and it became a social gathering. • Location and placement of this map was important to get maximum participation. • At its present size, several people could use this simultaneously with room for spectators to look on. • A few people customized stickers or added unique annotations, but by and large, most people simply followed the instructions (Lesson: provide the pens and markers right by the map to make it as easy as possible to carry out this task). • The green dots (could be used for any purpose) were not labeled; can I assume these signified locations people want to travel to? • Low-tech paper prototyping proved to be an effective and quick production method for me. • What I assumed would take days to fill in the map with stickers, only took about 15 minutes. • I should have bought more stickers, as I ran out of blue (places visited) dots. Although we see maps everyday, on websites and smartphones, its rarer to see them at such a large scale, especially in a public setting where playing with it and modifying its information is encouraged. I believe that, combined with the tactile quality that a paper map and a set of sticky dots provides, it created a fun interface for people to share a little bit about their own geo-spatial experiences and learn a little about other’s histories.

1. A short video demonstrating the map being used can be found here: <http://vimeo.com/30527260>.

Contextus process book


Five: Early Experiments

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Smart object: interactive subway map

The setup for this project was relatively simple, only requiring an Arduino, circuit board, an infrared rangefinder sensor and a 10uF capacitor. The first iteration was performed on my laptop, with the finished version projected onto a screen at intended actual size. Diagram: funnel.cc

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One past project that I revisited during thesis was an interactive map that I created in our Prototyping class the preceding year. The basic idea was that of a gesturally-controlled smartmap controlled by waving one’s hands (not touchscreen—you don’t want to actually touch anything down in the subway station!) This final refinement of the MTA interactive map utilizes Funnel1, a toolkit for physical computing and the creation of smart objects. The Funnel server connects Flash’s ActionScript 3 library to communicate with an Arduino board and an infra-red rangefinder sensor to create some interesting physical/digital interactions.

Analog input data from the IR rangefinder is fed into the Arduino board, which in turn is relayed to the Flash movie. The distance of one’s hand from the sensor affects the zoom level of the map2. At the minimum physical distance, the subway map is shown at its maximum zoom and a street map of the detail area fades into view. This working model aimed to physically demonstrate what previous paper and Flash-based prototypes could only hint at.

1. For more information: <http://funnel.cc>.

2. A short video demonstrating the map being used can be found here: <http://vimeo.com/23606760> as well as a detailed description and source code of the project: <http://sva.isotope221.com/mta-map-funnel.html>.

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Gestural user interface: hacking a Kinect

“For thousands of years, we mentally projected ourselves into maps; now map information has the ability to project itself outward, onto us.” 1

With that passage stuck in my mind, I wondered how to take advantage of DIY technology hacks and apply it to my thesis for a final prototype that I could actually build and demonstrate. I had been influenced and impressed by recent examples of interactive prototypes that I had seen recently, whether in MoMA’s “Talk to Me” exhibit2 or from last year’s thesis festival3. I knew that I could fake something, but I really want to make something. SVA faculty instructor Amit Pitaru was kind enough to provide a small workshop in hacking Xbox Kinect devices for the second-year students not enrolled in his Coding Slowly class. The Kinect is a motion sensing input device used for video games that has a depth sensor consisting of an infrared laser which captures video data in 3D. I ended up hacking the studio’s unit and used Processing to move a circular cursor over a map that follows the movements of my hands4. Once set up, it was a nice first step in realizing a gestural-based map user interface5. As fun as it was, I quickly learned the limitations that this approach had. I soon realized that my thesis should start with a solid idea and let the technology follow that idea instead of forcing an idea to fit within the constraints of a particular technology.

Although intriguing as a means of controlling an interface, hacking a Kinect presently is too limiting in its actions and perhaps needlessly too physical a medium. Borenstein’s book has great examples of visualizations affected by the tracking of body movements, but not much deeper applications.

1. Jennings, Ken. Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks. New York: Scribner, 2011. p.231. 2. S ee <http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2011/talktome> or its printed version: Antonelli, Paola. Talk to Me: Design and Communication Between People and Objects. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2011. 3. S VA’s Interaction Design class of 2011 featured two students who demonstrated impressive live prototypes during their thesis presentation: Clint Beharry’s Orbit <https://vimeo.com/24744415> and Russ Maschmeyer’s Motiv <https://vimeo.com/24787901>. 4. A lso with the help of: Borenstein, Greg. Making Things See: 3D Vision with Kinect, Processing, Arduino, and MakerBot. Beijing: O’Reilly, 2012. 5. A video demonstrating my hack can be found here: <http://vimeo.com/31276534>.

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Transparent New York

Turning on or off various layers of information not only reveals the infrastructure of New York, but its history as well. Left to right: British Army headquarters, 18th-century expansion, colonial-era farms, high-rise offices and zoning areas.

During my research, I rediscovered my copy of Transparent Cities written by architect Brian McGrath. It is a box set of 24 clear acetate transparencies—12 of Manhattan and 12 of Rome with an accompanying 28-page booklet. Each transparency illustrates a map of one aspect of the city, whether it be the subway system or office buildings of New York, or the topography or ancient ruins of Rome. Placed over each other, the viewer can start to see the relationships between infrastructure and natural physical features and watch as the city “builds” itself. The transparencies of these two cities are depicted at the same scale, so accurate relationships between the two cities can be explored as well. One can tart to see the impermanence and heterogeneity of both places—Rome the mythical Eternal City and New York the essential Temporary City1.

With this, I hoped to get one step closer to realizing how all of the subjects that geography embodies can be assembled, visualized, dissected and compared. Imagine a map of a country whose interface can be used to examine political science with geology, demographics with economics, all at a glance. That way, one can not only see, for instance, the wealth disparity between nations, but all of the possible reasons why that exists. While this experiment is a micro view of a macro concept, it served to influence my first true prototype later (see page 118).

Since Transparent Cities was originally published in 1994, interactive website technology was in its infancy and had not evolved enough to effectively illustrate this unique assembling of different layers of information. As a means of further exploring the display of multiple levels or layers of geo-spatial information, I scanned in the acetate sheets of Manhattan and built a web page in HTML, CSS and Javascript enabling the viewer to turn on or off views of the various layers to see relationships between them2.

1. McGrath, Brian. “Introduction.” Transparent Cities. New York, NY: Sites/ Lumen Books, 1994. p.4.

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2. Visit <http://www.isotope221.com/transparent-nyc/transparent-nyc.html> to explore Transparent New York.

Contextus process book


Below left: multiple layers of information made visible reveal both the history and infrastructure of New York City. Below right: the inspiration consisting of a box set of transparencies and booklet that compares New York City and Rome on the same scale.

Five: Early Experiments

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Minard charts for the 21st-century

events presented all at once instead of unfolding in time. When it was published in 1869, one can imagine the reader of this graphic having their world atlas opened up to the Eastern European plates for side-by-side comparison of data and time to place.

One of the pioneers of information graphics: Charles Joseph Minard’s 1869 chart of Napoleon’s ill-fated 1812 march to Russia, plotting five different variables over time and space. Wikimedia Commons

In one of the earliest and most elegant examples of information visualization graphics, Charles Joseph Minard’s chart of Napoleon’s March to Russia of 1812 is a beautiful display of multivariate data. With all of the attention that infographics are getting lately, it seems almost cliché to discuss a chart so widely known, one that Edward Tufte described as “…the best statistical graphic ever drawn”1. Tufte revisited his praise for this chart, hailing it as an example that shows comparisons, contrasts differences, shows causality and integrates evidence2. The basic concept behind it is of great value to my thesis, particularly how it is rich in content while retaining its visual simplicity. Despite all of its strengths, this graphic is somewhat divorced from the physical, geographic location that it describes. Minard chart plots five variables of data: the size of Napoleon’s army, its location, direction traveled, date and temperature. At a glance, one can observe Napoleon’s march from the modern-day Polish border with Lithuania all the way to Moscow, starting with 422,000 men and returning with only 10,000. Upon closer inspection, one can see how the freezing temperatures on a given date or a perilous river crossing correlates to the dwindling size of his army. What one cannot see however is this event’s relation to its larger geographic setting, the context in which this bit of history took place. Being printed on paper, the information is static, with six months of

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Taking inspiration from my earlier experiment Transparent NYC, I mapped Minard’s graphic onto a Google Map view of the modernday area where it took place. Although very basic, this new experiment was satisfying to build as well as show to some of my classmates. Already familiar with Minard’s chart, Cooper said that my interactive display demonstrated it in a new perspective for him. He didn’t realize that the original chart mapped Napoleon’s march to a physical location and felt that it was not only beneficial seeing it geo-located, but geo-located on a map as familiar Google’s. Minard’s chart doesn’t quite line up with Google’s map of the same geographic area (in particular Napoleon’s retreat over the Berezina River, where according to the data, he lost 22,000 men while attempting to cross it), which may something to do with differing map projections or historical inaccuracies. As a quick evolution of this experiment, I overlaid Napoleon’s march onto Google Earth, taking advantage of the interactivity and time-based animation that application could offer. The flat graphic conformed to the earth’s curvature as it was placed onto the sphere which allowed for a slightly more accurate mapping of data to place. One goal with this was to present a story full of data and locations unfolding during a specific time period utilizing Google Earth’s point-to-point jump animation. The camera can rotate, tilt and zoom in to any point along Napoleon’s route to add another dimension of information to an already rich graphic. This experiment soon became a full-fledged second prototype (see page 126). I would use Google Earth to tell the story of just one part of human history, my assumption being that more knowledge will be retained in this manner of presentation—hopefully demonstrating that all even seemingly disparate things can be related. 1. Tufte, Edward R. “Graphical Excellence.” The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press, 2001. p.40. 2. Tufte. “The Fundamental Principles of Analytical Design.” Beautiful Evidence. Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press, 2006. pp.122–139.

Contextus process book


After placing Minard’s chart within the familiar environment of a Google Map, one can start to see where exactly Napoleon’s 1812 March to Russia (and subsequent retreat) took place.

Evolving this experiement from Google Maps to Google Earth allowed the ability to animate Napoleon’s march and better tie human history to the physical geography where the events took place.

Five: Early Experiments

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You Are Here

You Are Here consists of a large communal touch-screen interface and a companion mobile app. The app allows one to contribute their story to You Are Here, taking advantage of idle time spent waiting in line for the Liberty or Ellis Island ferries. The large screen allows people to view other’s stories within the context of the larger story of human migration.

In our Public Interfaces class during Fall 2011, we were encouraged with designing a project that could be part of our thesis. Although created outside of thesis, it was concurrent and closely aligned to it. You Are Here tells the story of immigration to the United States through a shared public interface that utilizes collaborative stories and user-generated data. User’s personal narratives are placed within the larger context of history. There were several goals I hoped to achieve throughout the course of this semester-long project. One was to see the relationships and commonalities we share with strangers. I wanted to visualize dynamic user-generated content and stories and design an interface that bridges different languages and technologies that grounded difficult-to-conceive history and numbers in personal experience. Lastly, there was the need to create empathy and understanding for immigrants throughout history, showing the reasons why they moved here. The ideal location for this experience would be on Liberty and/ or Ellis Islands, the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892 until 1954. Situated near the information center and concession stands, it would be placed near busy foot traffic and lines for the ferry. The touchscreen interface would be large enough to be accessed by several people simultaneously with spectators able to watch as well.

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The experience starts when visitors purchase their ferry ticket for the islands. They receive with their tickets a badge printed with a hi-resolution color barcode that, when scanned with a smartphone, can download the exhibit’s companion app. While the visitor is waiting in the long lines for the ferry, they can learn more about You Are Here and submit their personal information and stories to its database. The app supplies interesting and relevant anecdotes tailored to each user’s experiences. When they arrive at the island, they are recognized by the system through their badge’s RFID tag and can view their profile and travels on the big map. People can also check out other current visitor’s profiles and travels and are alerted if they share anything in common, facilitating conversation between strangers. Historical stories and images taken from Ellis Island’s Immigration & Geneology database can be seen and compared to more recent immigrants and visitors. After a visitor leaves Liberty or Ellis Islands, they are invited to continue adding to their story or view other people’s stories through the You Are Here website1. Although the final form of Contextus was small-scale and much wider in scope, it retained the spirit and communal nature of You Are Here, as well as some of its design language. I learned to prototype the screen interactions and animations in Apple Keynote— a method I would repeat for the final prototype of Contextus.

Contextus process book


You Are Here is situated at high-traffic points on Liberty or Ellis Island, its size allowing multiple people to use it simultaneously or to stand back and become spectators.

1. For a more detailed description: <http://sva.isotope221.com/you_are_here.html>

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06

refining the pitch

“If geography is prose, maps are iconography.” — lennart meri


Thesis proposal exercise

Taking the format of the pitch sentence, I listed on post-its every possibility of interest to me for what was being made, its audience and the problem this product or service would solve. Subsequently, this was expressed as a time-lapse video showing several permutations.

By the beginning of the fall 2011 semester, I knew what inspired and motivated me and had a general direction for thesis. Now I just needed to be able to articulate to others what I was planning to do. Fear of committing myself into a direction or plan that I would soon dislike, grow bored with, or find limitations with kept my pitch vague. The biggest obstacle to moving forward with thesis was my inability to get specific and narrow down my approach. This continued to be challenge throughout my thesis process until almost the very end. In Frank Chimero’s Thesis Development class, we were asked to present our declarative thesis statement in the seemingly simple format of: I’m making a to address the problem of

to be used by .

My reaction to this was to write down all of the possibilities for each of the blanks—product/service, audience, problem—on post-its and then make a short video1 of myself inserting and rearranging them into this format. This exercise whittled down some of my ideas and clarified my goal. Although subject to much change, this gave me a succinct mission statement which could be used as a starting point: I’m making a large-scale thematic mapping interface to be used by strangers in a public space to address the problem of our lack of understanding the rest of the world.

Expanding on my very first proposal idea written for Liz Danzico’s Thesis Prep class from the preceding Spring, I was now able to draft the first version of my proposal, as well as create a slide presentation that summarized my intentions. After several thoughtprovoking comments from Frank (opposite page), I made some revisions for the second and final versions of my proposal, along with a research plan.

1. <http://theorypluspractice.tumblr.com/post/10771243408>.

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Contextus process book


Thesis proposal, version 1 September 26, 2011

So, it sounds like you’re saying that you will educate people about other places in the world by surfacing commonalities between there and here? Cool thing to consider: since the map will be in public and location specific, you will know EXACTLY where “here” is.

For my thesis area of exploration, I’m making a large-scale thematic mapping interface to be used by strangers in a public space to address the problem of our lack of understanding the rest of the world.

Collaborative education?

On their most basic level, maps are a personal artifact used for wayfinding and navigation. However, with today’s technologies and over-abundance of data, maps can do so much more. By collecting and displaying both personal and public information to create meaningful stories, maps can bridge the abstract with reality, making connections between strangers and finding commonalities. We no longer live in a world isolated from other people and their cultures and interactive maps can help change our perspectives about the world we live in. Not only can we now map territories, but we can map networks, conversations and even mapping itself. This is intended for a wide, diverse audience of people. It could be used alone, although the interface and interactions will lend itself to being shared by strangers and used simultaneously to facilitate an exchange of ideas and knowledge. A fun yet informative tone will be employed to lower people’s inhibitions and foster a collaborative environment. The context for this map would be situated in a public space, making itself available to those who walk by it. Museums could be good locations for it, but at the same time too limiting in reaching a wide audience. Public parks or plazas would be ideal, as they are highly trafficked, have free access and allow multiple users and spectators.

I like this idea. I’d consider the “exposure time” someone can invest if it’s out in public as well. It’d be longer in a park, shorter in a throughway.

People would experience using this interface through a combination of gestural or touch-based interactions, near-field communications and large-scale projections. It should be playful and fun but informative and educational as well, with the ability to allow people to see our world differently. With all the resources available today and in the near future, a myriad of opportunities exist for designers to have real impact in raising awareness and bridging connections. Another thing to consider: ask experts— “If this thing could teach the public one concept, what should it be? What’s the most important? Size? Location? Culture?”

My next steps are to research various public interfacing projects and the problems they attempt to solve. An analysis of the problems stemming from people’s misconceptions of the world beyond their personal borders would be crucial in determining whether a design solution is an appropriate one. A good suggestion from my classmates is to research how different cultures have made and used maps throughout history to gain understanding how the evolution of mapping has brought us to where we are currently. Researching from a technological standpoint, I wish to learn more about Natural User Interfaces, Near-Field Communications and Spimes to guide the feasibility of this thesis. Some books worth reading will include Brave NUI World: Designing Natural User Interfaces for Touch and Gesture by Daniel Wigdor, Living With Complexity and The Design of Future Things, both by Don Norman. People I would contact to get feedback and guidance on this thesis include but are not limited to: Janet Abrams, Director of the University of Minnesota Design Institute and co-author of Else/Where, and the partners and designers at such firms as Stamen Design, Potion, Local Projects and Digital Obscura, all responsible for a wide variety of innovative interactive projects, often set in public spaces.

Six: Refining the Pitch

Other thoughts: * Can you literally bring there here? * How about figuratively? * What precisely do you want Americans to learn about the rest of the world? * What are the overlaps in the data that’s being collected? What data do you have access to that’s gathered for both the States and other countries?

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Thesis proposal, version 2 October 2, 2011

Per our discussion in class: is it about the map or the people? If the map, is it about geography or not?

For my thesis area of exploration, I’m making a large-scale thematic mapping interface to be used by strangers in a public space to address the problem of our lack of understanding the rest of the world. The work generated by this investigation will attempt to create connections between people, open dialogue and change points of view. On their most basic level, maps are a personal artifact used for wayfinding and navigation. With today’s technologies and ubiquitous abundance of data, maps can do so much more. By collecting and displaying both personal and public information to create meaningful stories, maps can bridge the abstract with reality, making connections between the tangible physical world and the intangible world of people’s social networks and information. Through this process of collaborative understanding can emerge a mapping interface that encourages interactions and inspires curiousity.

How can you prove this influence? Examples? Integrate that influence into the map?

Good synthesis of the opportunity. But how do you make people like a map if they have map aversion? How can you immediately communicate to someone that this is a different kind of map, if it may look the same as many others?

We no longer live in a world isolated from other people and their cultures, both in a physical and figurative sense. But most of us live as if we still do. We often know as little about our neighbors as we do about people on the other side of the world. That isolation is counter-productive to us as a society and only serves to reinforce distrust and misconceptions we have about other people and places. Despite revolutions in travel and communication, the world is still a big place, full of differences as well as commonalities. This thesis aims to find some of our shared stories and interests, visualizing them for the sake of greater openess and discussion. This thesis idea is intended for a wide, diverse audience of people. Its interface and interactions will lend itself to being shared by strangers and used simultaneously to facilitate an exchange of ideas and knowledge. A fun yet informative and impartial tone will be employed to lower people’s inhibitions and foster an inviting engaging environment in order to see our world differently. The context for this map would be situated in a public space in a major city, making itself available to those who walk by it—local residents, commuters and tourists alike. Parks or plazas would be ideal, as they are highly trafficked, have free access and allow for multiple users and spectators to invest time in using or observing others use it. Websites or mobile apps are too limiting and private a platform. In this case, the problem dictates the format: a large-format shared experience.

Useful exercise: list all the possible interactions from a formal standpoint. Swipe, zoom, data transfer from phone, etc.

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People would experience using this interface through a combination of gestural or touch-based interactions, near-field communications with their smartphones and seeing dynamic visualizations on large-scale projections. The stories that can emerge from this map would be accessed from all its previous users’ data. The map exists as an end rather than the means. It is the noun, the format, the interface to this problem of connections, knowledge and understanding. With all the resources available today and in the near future, a myriad of opportunities exist for designers to have real impact in raising awareness and bridging connections.

This statement makes choosing the site imperative to its success. The map will have a codependency with its location.

Similarly, what are the possible stories?

Contextus process book


Agreed. See what people misunderstand. Ask why they do. Then attempt to think of ways to inform them in a way that is relevant to them. Why does Zimbabwe matter if you don’t have a passport?

My next steps are to research various public interfacing projects and the problems they attempt to solve. An analysis of the problems stemming from people’s misconceptions of the world beyond their own would be crucial in determining whether a design solution is an appropriate one. Exploring the concept of borders and their imprecise, fluid, abstract nature would be useful as well as the idea of all the earth’s population being connected by “six degrees of separation”. In Entrepreneurial Design class last semester, Zach Klein taught us the idea of a minimally viable product (MVP) with just those features (and no more) that allows a product or service to be used. What is this interface’s MVP and what can it achieve? TED talks and related forums can serve as a good starting point for examining these ideas and drawing my own conclusions. Researching from a technological standpoint, I wish to learn more about Natural User Interfaces, Ubiquitous Computing, Near-Field Communications and Spimes to guide the concepts and feasibility of this thesis. Some books worth reading will include Everyware by Adam Greenfield, Brave NUI World: Designing Natural User Interfaces for Touch and Gesture by Daniel Wigdor, Living With Complexity and The Design of Future Things, both by Don Norman. People I would contact to get feedback and guidance on this thesis include but are not limited to: Janet Abrams, Director of the University of Minnesota Design Institute and co-author of Else/Where, Candy Chang, an installation/street artist whose work fosters communication between people and engages citizens with their environment, and the partners and designers at such firms as Stamen Design, Potion, Local Projects and Digital Obscura, all responsible for a wide variety of innovative interactive projects, often set in public spaces.

Good!

In maps we trust!

Six: Refining the Pitch

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Coherence & clarity (or lack thereof)

Coherence and clarity were two attributes absent from my thesis thus far. Although I was self-aware that my descriptions of what I was working on were vague and not articulated very well, I hadn’t thought of them in these exact terms. Paul Pangaro, our cybernetics professor and upcoming thesis critic, initiated an optional workshop for helping us better define our theses (or to get meta, “a thesis about the thesis process”). He wanted us to address the coherence between intention and design, as well as goals and actions. In Paul’s words: A fundamental demand from any thesis is coherence, that is, the conjoint validity of WHAT you want to achieve and HOW you propose to achieve it. To say the obvious, doing the HOW must achieve the WHAT with very high likelihood. The definitions of both WHAT and HOW must be clear and prescriptive, and the relationships between them clearly tied, all in service of minimizing risk. In sum, one way to judge the quality of a thesis is the coherence between intention and design.1

This was an exercise to bring together WHAT our goals were and the HOW those goals would be achieved through our thesis process to judge the quality of our progress. As I was starting to discover on my own, deciding about the medium or the end product first could potentially waste time, leading to wrong directions. Paul particularly believes in a rigorous approach where coherence and clarity are fully thought through before any execution. After all, it is less challenging (and rewarding) to create something first and then retroactively state how that creation fulfills some purpose. I discovered differing schools of thought on this topic within our faculty; one camp believing that the majority of thought and research should go into the problem definition and coherence, and the other believing that a general idea with cycles of iterative prototyping is the path to success. In other words, thinking then making vs. making then thinking (followed by more making). We were asked to come prepared with a revised definition (elevator pitch) and rationale (the goals and methods to best achieve them) to better explain our concept. This model, adapted from Proctor & Gamble, was presented as:

FOR (target audience), WHO HAS (need), (area name) IS A (market category) THAT (key benefit). UNLIKE (competition), THE PRODUCT (unique differentiator).

Additionally, we were asked to provide a rationale for our definition: MY GOAL IS TO (key benefit or WHAT you want to achieve) FOR (target audience). I WILL ACHIEVE THIS BY (description of where in the user’s experience you will intervene and what will happen to achieve your goal).

Thus my attempt at better defining my thesis process: For the curious, who want to be better informed citizens, this is a unique geography-based experience that visualizes and conveys information in interesting, contextual and personalized ways. Unlike traditional maps that we mentally project ourselves into, this product or service projects itself outward onto us. My goal is to broaden people’s perspectives by making geography (and all that it encompasses) more interesting, accessible and relevant for people who want to be better informed about & more engaged with the world they live in. I will achieve this by utilizing design and technology to deliver a service and/or product seamlessly into user’s everyday lives.

As I was writing this, I felt unsure and almost paralyzed with indecisiveness. My definition and rationale were at best ambiguous and at worst lackadaisical. It came as no surprise that Paul’s critique was that my definition was fuzzy and used terms that are hard to measure or quantify (‘contextual’, ‘seamless’) and that my rationale was also too vague and didn’t add any further clarity to my definition. HOW is it contextual or personalized? HOW will this project itself outward onto us? Even though I described the medium of my thesis in the most general of terms, it became apparent that medium would make itself clear only after the problem and its subsequent solution were ascertained. I saw now that I had a lot of work ahead of me just in better defining what my thesis was before I could even start building it.

1. Pangaro, Paul. “Thesis Development Plenary Session.” Email. Nov. 28, 2011.

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Contextus process book


Refining the pitch

As an alternative approach to defining our intentions and goals, our thesis development instructor David Womack asked us to restate our elevator pitch describing our thesis in a slightly different format than we previously did for either Frank Chimero or Paul Pangaro. Instead of stating, “I’m making a to be used by to address the problem of .”, we were encouraged to restructure our pitch as: “If I [do this], then [this will happen].”

This simpler, more direct approach presents an apparent cause and effect. This structure allows a certain level of ambiguity regarding the form factor and eliminates declaring an audience for this product or service. While this may sound limiting or self-defeating, it proved itself helpful as a way to take a step back and refocus on high-level goals and issues.

What was lost in previously defining coherence and clarity was the focus on the term geography. Geography was the broader subject matter for my thesis and the basis of most of my research, but perhaps it was part of the problem as well. How it was defined, what it involved, where it was used, why did it come into being were all possible avenues of exploration. To borrow two terms that were used in our Service Design class, this new pitch can be framed a bit differently with a hypothesis and a hunt statement. My hypothesis is that many people lack curiosity about the world they live in because they find existing learning tools irrelevant or uninspiring. This apathy has far-reaching effects in our society on educational, economic and even political levels. Subsequently, the hunt statement would be to discover how maps can be better utilized to leverage and illustrate the true and complete power of geography as a medium that goes far beyond just navigation.

Three alternative elevator pitches that came out of this exercise: If I can visualize and convey information in new and unique ways, then I can change people’s perspectives. If I can make geography more interesting, then people will become more engaged with the world they live in. If I can utilize the design and technology of maps to help explain all that geography encompasses, then I can help people become better informed citizens of the world.

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So what? Why should anyone care?

The existing elevator pitch formats that we’ve been using to describe our thesis purpose and intent these last few months was a struggle to say the least. It seemed better tailored for someone designing a commercial product for a known target market, hoping to outdo the competition. For theses often conceptual in nature, perhaps not even feasible by today’s technology, with wide or undefined audiences, the elevator pitch framework seems to fall short as a tool to communicate broader ideas. Yet the importance of articulating the goals and actions of a thesis is paramount. Without knowing this, its difficult knowing what or whom one is designing for. In essence, there is a delicate balance between the macro and the micro— devote too much attention to the big picture at the expense of the details of execution, and the thesis suffers from either becoming an overly academic paper or a beautifully executed project devoid of deeper meaning or intent.

The book that helped overcome my mental block to expressing the essence of my thesis.

With that in mind, I discovered A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses and Dissertations which quickly became an invaluable resource for framing my thesis1. Immediately in the first chapter, it offers an alternative way to approach the problem of definition, one that guides the researcher to think clearer about their goals: I’m working on the topic of X because I want to find out Y, so I can understand Z.

This format strives to communicate not only that a thesis topic is sound, but why it is worth researching in the first place and what other related topics it may shed light on. Most importantly, it interjects the questions of why and so what as a means to investigating one’s ideas more fully. Whether one’s questions are conceptual (What should we think?) or practical (What should we do?), being able to anticipate objections and criticism is immensely valuable not only for your thesis audience, but for yourself. After much brainstorming, several iterations later, I revised my thesis objective in this format:

1. Turabian, Kate L.. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago style for Students and Researchers. 7th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

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I’m working on the topic of searching for information through a geographic lens. Why? Because I want to show that geography isn’t just places on a map; it encompasses fields as diverse as history, politics, economics, science and demographics. So what if you do? Then we can bridge the gap between Google Maps and Wikipedia for a more inclusive and intuitive information search experience. So what if you do? Then we can become better informed and more engaged citizens of this world, better equipped to handle global challenges that face us.

Moving from thesis topic to question, I could offer a working hypothesis: How can we counter geographic illiteracy and make searching for information more comprehensive, relevant, intuitive and fun? We can do so by bridging the gap between Google Maps and Wikipedia. Google Maps and Google Earth visualize the complexities of the world in beautiful detail through a form that is easy to navigate. Wikipedia offers a vast and growing amount of information in a simple way that offers related subjects for further exploration. By harnessing the strengths of these existing products, we can design a search experience that illustrates how a map is worth a million words.

A Manual for Writers has already proved to be an essential tool in helping to organize my thoughts and goals. Its interesting to note that this book was (obviously) not written with interaction designers in mind. It is geared towards researchers of more traditional theses investigating a topic about something that is happening or has already happened—namely history with analysis, observation and opinion given in hindsight. How our thesis program differs is that we’re creating something that has not yet been made. Our thesis might be based on research, history, observation, prototyping and testing; but our futurescaping doesn’t report on what was, but what could be.

Contextus process book


Revisiting why should anyone care.

Throughout this entire thesis process, words alone often were not enough to truly express my thesis. Although Turabian’s A Manual for Writers provided a framework that helped clarify my intentions, my pitch still needed some revising. One recent phrase I employed to describe my thesis was to “bridge the gap between Google Maps and Wikipedia”. Sounding declarative and impressive, it served me well for a time, but now that statement was being interpreted by others a bit too literally. The impression was that I would simply take Wikipedia’s content and place it as a layer onto a Google Map. What needed to be better explained was bridging the functionality and purpose of Google Maps and Wikipedia. If Wikipedia (or Quora for that matter) represents a vast body of text-based knowledge and Google Maps exemplifies a unique interface for visualizing the physical world, then my thesis is essentially a fusion of presenting text and map-based information—the information and exploration stated in my very first thesis proposal (page X). As my advisor Shawn told me, “…its about discovering some subject, a variable within the context of space and time. Text is a good medium for absorbing other people’s thoughts, but it can be passive. Maps are a good medium for explaining spatial relationships, but can be a bit too abstract. I’m exploring the ‘sweet spot’ to get the benefits of both.” In the spirit of providing further coherence and clarity for myself and others, I revisited the framing of my thesis in the format of a conversation: I’m working on the topic of discovering information through a geographic lens. What exactly does that mean? It means learning about a particular subject within the context of place and time. How will you do this? By giving people the tools to find answers and draw conclusions for themselves, instead of just giving them the answer. I believe that people will retain knowledge better through this method of seeing spatial relationships.

Six: Refining the Pitch

Why are you doing this? Because I want to demonstrate that geography isn’t just points on a map… it encompasses fields of study as diverse as history, politics, economics, science, demographics, etc. So what if you do? Then we can bridge the gap between text and maps to show information in a different and more useful context, which will lead to a better integrated and more intuitive learning experience. So what if you do? Then we can become better informed and more engaged citizens of the world.

With this version sounding more defined and faithful to my original vision, I then reworked my elevator pitch within the Proctor & Gamble format:

For the armchair scholar, who has difficulty retaining knowledge from text-based media, Contextus is an iPad app for presenting information that visualizes subjects through a geographic lens within the context of place and time. Unlike Wikipedia, Contextus gives people the tools to discover answers and draw conclusions for themselves; unlike Google Maps, it displays spatial relationships to find answers, not just directions. For short elevator rides to the third floor, a more concise version:

Contextus is an iPad app that gives people the tools to discover information within the context of place and time, visualizing knowledge through a geographic lens.

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07

concept development

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” — benjamin disr aeli


Mind mapping and other assorted ideas

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unknown

innovative

known

uncomfortable

Or could this become an immersive environment for one to experience geography with all of their senses? Two places I have visited, the Mapparium at the Christian Science Center in Boston and the Mapa en Relieve in Guatemala City, fit this description quite well. Visitors to both attractions find themselves quite literally surrounded by a map. Might a digital version exist? I kept finding myself returning to this thought over and over:

In a productive meeting with Liz, we discussed the balance of feasibility vs. creativity in executing a thesis and the connection between a mindful designer and a mindful observer. She jotted down a pair of matrices with four possible points of the thesis journey, comparing feasibility, innovation, known and unknown qualities with my own relative comfort or discomfort:

comfortable

During initial exploration, before I concentrated on the term geography, I focused on the visual representation of geographyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; maps. By taking a central idea and visually organizing any associated concepts, one can start to see a broader view and make connections between a wide array of seemingly disparate subjects. I had help from some classmates including suggestions to think how historically people from different cultures created and used maps as well as maps that affect senses other than sight. Innovative examples included Inuit maps of coastlines made of whalebones and Polynesian sea charts constructed out of seashells and branches. This opened up possibilities of the end medium becoming something more physical or tangible than typical screen-based media.

â&#x20AC;Śfor thousands of years, we used to mentally project ourselves into maps; now map information has the ability to project itself outward, onto us.1

comfortable

National Library of Australia http://19cities.blogspot.com http://kurobiri.blogspot.com Greenland National Museum & Archives

It started with a mind map.

uncomfortable

Clockwise from top left: Polynesian nautical chart constructed of seashells and sticks, mapping ocean currents and islands; the immersive physical experience of the Mapparium, a three-story high glass tile globe that visitors can walk through; Mapa en Relieve, an open air relief map of Guatemala, built at the scale of 1:10,000; Inuit coastline map made from wood or bone tactile enough to be read by touch in addition to sight.

fe a sible

1. Jennings, Ken. Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks. New York: Scribner, 2011. p.231.

Contextus process book


Collaborate

Tools

Methods

Large interface

Share

how other cultures wayfind & navigate

ignorance of geography Public

opportunities

Educational

Broaden horizons Animated, time-lapse maps

Seven: Concept Development

Contextual knowledge

Using different senses

Exploring the possibilities in thesis that could lead to ideas worth pursuing by arranging general topics and their more specific attributes. Below: the original mental map sketch.

Thematic maps

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New insights: adjacencies, patterns & intersections

As my concept development slowly progressed, I found inspiration in a workshop that Liz offered on Thesis & Form. In it, we were exposed to new ideas that surround our individual theses such as adjacencies, intersections, quantities and, patterns. These could be used as methods to search beyond our specific area of research, taking a wider view to see anything remotely related, eventually narrowing that view down again with more concrete ideas and insight. We were also made aware of what questions to ask ourselves in order to define a thesis and the criteria for its success:

Opposite: K-J analysis arranging post-its of everything I associated with maps and geography. Each color-coded entry was organized under the categories of resources/skills/experts, what maps do, what maps are, place vs. space, adjacencies, intersections, aspects of geography, quantities/metrics and patterns. This excerise confirmed some existing associations as well as revealed new insights to explore further.

• • • • • •

What is it? Who is it for? Why do it? What/Where will its effect be? How will you do it? Who will be involved?

• • • • • • •

Meaningfulness: Is it relevant and meaningful? Impact: Is it larger than a class project? Groundedness: Are you able to produce the work? Viability: Is it demonstrable? Story: Does it tell a compelling story? Aesthetic quality: Is it well designed? Innovation: Does it contribute new knowledge to a particular subject or context?

I started to organize all of my thoughts onto a large whiteboard, placing each into a category from our workshop and a few additional ones of my own creation, including what maps do (verbs), what maps are (nouns, adjectives), the notion of place vs. space1, and the various aspects of geography. Through this KJ analysis marathon, as well as my secondary research, I found some great insights that contributed greatly to my thesis development: 1. Geography is a lot larger than just maps. Cartography is the most tangible and visual product of a much larger field. Geography encompasses aspects of history, economics, linguistics, ecology, anthropology, meteorology, demographics, geology and much more. If this is what geography seeks to understand, and as a country and a culture we are no longer interested in geography, what does this imply? What work can be done to remedy this issue?

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2. Maps are a means, not an end. They’re the tool employed to communicate larger problems and the vehicle to deliver the solution—in whatever form that may become. It is the noun, the format, the interface to address this problem of connections, knowledge and understanding. 3. We used to mentally project ourselves into maps; now map technology has the ability to project itself outward, onto us. Recent advances in technology have opened up whole new worlds and opportunities to bring maps and data into our lives, whether its through augmented reality, near-field communications or some yet-unnamed product or service. How can interaction designers make this work in an intuitive, fluid, beneficial way that encourages understanding and inspires curiosity? 4. The creators and engineers behind Google Earth have expressed a genuine desire to bring understanding and peace to the real earth through their software. The beauty of maps is that they can connect time, place, space and experiences to a point on an abstracted representation of the world. What can be done to further this mission? 5. The biggest challenges we now face are climate change, unsustained population growth, global terrorism and the rise of China. Geographic knowledge can provide many opportunities to meet these challenges in a shrinking world. 6. We no longer live in a world isolated from other people and their cultures, both in a physical and figurative sense. The so-called Butterfly Effect2 has very real and tangible consequences that can be felt in a connected world. Farm labor unrest in South America could affect produce prices at our local supermarket, just as religious extremists in the Middle East could affect the safety of our morning commute. Without an understanding of where these places are, we are not equipped to solve these problems or prevent new ones.

1. Place vs. Space is a key element of the field of Human Geography, the study of how people are affected by their environment and the attachments that form. From: Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977. 2. T he Butterfly Effect is a small change at one place can result in large differences to a later state far away: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect>.

Contextus process book


Seven: Concept Development

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Resources, skills, experts

What maps are

Who are the experts in the field of geography or information visualization? What advice can they offer? A list of people to get in touch with, books to read, and materials to research, plus some inspiring individuals.

Since my initial focus was on the language of geography, maps, what are the nouns and adjectives that describe them?

STUDIOS / FIRMS

frog

IDEO

Second Story

Stamen

Local Projects

fun

serious

multidimensional

singular in purpose

full of character

generic

Obscura Digital

Potion

EXPERTS

Janet Abrams

Jeff Hoefs

Feltron

practical

decorative

abstract / symbolic

representational

a product

a service

Candy Chang

Harm de Blij

Jer Thorp

PUBLICATIONS

Fast Company

Wired

informative

confusing

colectible

temporal

micro

macro

TED Talks

Talk to Me exhibit

SKILLS

Kinect hacking

Processing

ActionScript 3

valuable (an artifact)

disposable

personal

public

local

global (universal)

After Effects

BOOKS

Smart Things Kuniavsky

Space & Place Yi-Fu Tuan

Everyware Greenfield

Guns, Germs & Steel Diamond

analog (print)

digital (GPS, app)

tool

superficial

text based

image based

Brave NUI Wigdor

Else/Where Abrams, Hall

Living with Complexity Norman

Shaping Things Sterling

The Power of Place de Blij

Why Geography Matters de Blij

indispensible

obsolete

simple

complex

venerable

up-to-date

Digital Ground McCullough

The World is Flat Friedman

Designing Gestural Interfaces Saffer

You are not a Gadget Lanier

?!?

Anderson Cooper

obtrusive

discrete

precise

informal

customized

one-sizefits-all

Charlie Rose

George Packer

psychogeographic

manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s mastery over his environment

accurate

distorted

an aid

a crutch

THE POWERS OF TEN

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Contextus process book


What maps do These are the verbs that describe maps and the functions that they perform. Some are obvious, others more obscure or debatable.

empower nations/ empires

classify

advertise / promote

empower individuals

propagandize

deliberately mislead

unify

exaggerate & distort

display power, control & influence

inspire travel

reveal structure/ networks

save lives

entice / seduce

improve efficiency

structure knowledge

explain mysteries

confuse

organize space/time

express a point-of-view

explain the past

inspire the imagination

make connections

make information accessible

distort shape & size

track flow of goods/ services

mark / claim territory

intimidate

depict change

analyze

strategy

trigger memories of experiences

tie spaces to places

encompass multiple disciplines

influence decisions

rationalize

control knowledge

thematic display

navigation

spread knowledge

comparisons

debunk myths

trivialize

show hierarchy

expand influence

reveal scale

imagine the future

transportation

ground vast space/time to personal experiences

reconaissance

wayfinding

storytelling

measure & quantify

change perspectives

planning journeys

create artificial borders

consolidates power

warfare

infrastructure

miniturize

separates

abstracts reality

educate

planning

categorize

zoning

consolidates data

bridge science & the humanities

Seven: Concept Development

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90

Adjacencies

Intersections

Ideas run up against places, people, concepts that coexist alongside the work that becomes a thesis. Some may be physical or digital, tangible or conceptual.

Useful overlaps create new meaning and new ways of perceiving the intersection of two or more formerly individual pursuits.

GPS

wikis

napkins scribbles

political science

six degrees of separation

interactive storytelling

locationaware contextual anecdotes

geocontextual augmented reality

digital conversation starters

culture exchange

spontaneous diplomacy interface

geo-tagged geo-located info

blogs

spimes

ubicomp

TED conferences

the rise of China

experience design

on-the-fly skillshare knowledge swap

speedating for travelers

public, physical news website

medium for direct diplomacy

conversational cartography

idea exchanger O <——> O

signage / trail markers

news media

Facebook wall

economics

crowd sourcing

How Many Really? How Big Really?

virtual penpals

making a space out of place

marriage of abstract concepts with the personal

6 degrees of separation game / visualization

tying people’s experiences to a particular place

public atlases of personal experiences

Google Maps Google Earth

info viz

road maps

sociology

usergenerated content

map as art

data into stories

collaborative classroom

small change, big effect visualization

butterfly effect + globe

Discovery Channel

National Geographic

globes

psychogeography

radical cartography

cloud computing

humancomputer interaction (HCI)

atlases

urban planning

NGOs

place / space

pen pals

programming language

teachers / professors

history

think tanks / policy institutes

butterfly effect (chaos theory)

armchair explorers

Flickr & Vimeo

national security

goodwill ambassador

message in a bottle

confirmation bias

provincialism

Contextus process book


Place vs. Space

Aspects of geography

A key component of human geography, place vs. space distinguishes purely physical space from people’s relationship with it.

The defining characteristic of geography is that it is made up of dozens of related sciences and fields of study. Much more than just maps or cartography, geography encompasses both the ‘hard’ as well as social sciences.

PLACE

SPACE

PLACE

SPACE

PLACE

SPACE

PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

Meteorology

ecology

geomorphology

paleogeography

environmental sciences

distinct

open to interpretation

physical location

mental or emotional location

inflexible

fill-ability

hydrology & hydrography

geodesy

oceanography

HUMAN GEOGRAPHY

economics

demography

well defined

can be vague

natural

social construction

attached to

long for

history

urban planning

linguistics

spatial analysis

geo-cultural: globalization, Westernization

ethnography

find it

make it

literal

symbolic

tangible

metaphor

semiotics (signs)

cartography

transportation

statistics

geopolitics

sociology

security

freedom

intractable

adaptable

can exist without people

solitary or shared

anthropology

TECHNOLOGY

TOURISM

CURRENT AFFAIRS

“real”

abstracted

explicit

can be virtual

Seven: Concept Development

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92

Quantities & Metrics

Patterns

What is quantifiable about geography? What can be measured? Does it have metrics that can reveal new stories or approaches?

Understanding useful, usable, and interesting interactions, discover if patterns exist within the language of geography. What is common and what is an outlier?

MAPS

frequency

shape

scale 100:1 1:1 1:100

density

proximity

intuitive

data + stories

narrative

informal

interconnectedness

public

comparitive size

area (size)

distribution

time

direction

destinations

engaging

cultural

empathy

visualizing

edifying

varied

population

distance

location (x, y) (lat, long)

orientation

elevation

participants

macro / micro scale

participatory

collaborative

relevant

epic

encompassing

PEOPLE

psychographics (moods, attitudes)

social connections

demographics

openness / receptibility

patterns

informative

maps + imagery

compelling

fun!

understanding

personal history

ettiquette

locations

intentions & future decisions

hierarchies

order / sequence

Contextus process book


Form(ula) for improvement

As part of the shift from focusing on maps to the broader subject of geography, I am faced with questions regarding three essential components of thesis: content, audience and form. Should the content inform the audience and form or vice-versa? The three of these are interconnected and have a profound effect on the development of each other which could be explained by a simple formula:

The market audience for this thesis is wide and undefined—the general population basically, with average or higher technological skills. While it makes sense that a general audience could benefit from learning more about geography, limiting the user base to a degree would be constructive not only for informing the content and form, but for the entire thesis process. What are the ways the audience could be narrowed down? My classmate Kristin suggested school children. This makes sense in regards to my mission goals of changing perspectives and opening horizons—especially for those young enough to not yet be set in their ways. However, pivoting in this direction would partially shift research to childhood education—a subject I am neither terribly interested in nor have time to undertake. What are the alternatives to this demographic? College students, American tourists, foreign tourists, politicians, executives… the list goes on.

To reiterate one of my earlier assertions: maps are a means, not an end. The map as the most visible, tangible aspect of geography is the vehicle to carry the content and its tone. The content could be about empathy and understanding. Or it could be about exploration and discovery. Meeting global challenges (rising populations, limited resources, terrorism, climate change, the ascent of China, etc.) could be yet another source of content. Perhaps its a game visualizing global cause and effect (a simplified, less abstract version of the butterfly effect). Perhaps its some combination of these ideas or none at all. All of this thinking will determine my thesis’s form, the “artifact” of what is being made. Early proposals intended for a “large-scale thematic mapping interface”, an idea that is becoming less relevant as thesis progresses. I started with an idea of what I’d like to make, an end product divorced from solving a larger problem, one loosely based on inspiring past projects working with large subway maps and gestural interfaces (see pages 64–65). As much as I hesitated to create a small-scale, small-screen medium, if it proved the most logical delivery platform to meet the goal of delivering specific content to its intended audience, then the form should definitely follow its function. This form could be a website, a tablet or mobile app, augmented reality, or even a more physical medium. The decision to make Contextus a product or service would also shape its medium, although all products have some level of service involved, perhaps with fewer touchpoints involved. If it became a service, it could revolve around a generative map based on acquired knowledge, using Code Academy1 as a point of reference. Concerning the entry point for the user… should they start with the question (what do I want to learn?) or with the location (where do I want to learn about?). As Facebook’s Timeline, foursquare and Quora organize and display content by time and/or place, this geographic encyclopedia could follow suit. Am I designing the future of Wikipedia?

Content is king for any in-depth presentation and something I will need much help in crafting. In part, this is determined by audience unless the content plays a larger role and helps to determine the audience. (Is that a double-bind, a vicious circle or simply a paradox?)

Seven: Concept Development

1. An online interactive platform that offers free coding classes: <http://www.codecademy.com>.

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Correlation does not imply causation

global warming has increased in the same period of time. It must stand to reason that people buy less CDs because the weather is getting warmer! As designers, we have the responsibility to analyze and depict data wisely and accurately, taking on the role of a data journalist to an extent. Another way to think about it, as Freakonomics articulates: Just because two things are correlated does not mean that one causes the other. A correlation simply means that a relationship exists between two factors—let’s call them X and Y—but it tells you nothing about that relationship. It’s possible that X causes Y; it’s also possible that Y causes X; and it may be that X and Y are both being caused by some other factor, Z.3

Florence Nightinggale’s invention of the polar area diagram, used here to chart causes of mortality during the Crimean War. At a glance, one could see that the majority of deaths were caused by disease from poor sanitation and not combat itself. Wikimedia Commons

During my research, I came across an article1 that illustrates the link between obesity and car driving. It shows a pair of U.S. maps, one of which color-codes obesity rates by county and another that does the same for percentage of driving commuters. Noticeable right away is the predominantly red areas similar in both maps, stretching from the Appalachians to the Deep South. As with many charts, this was a misleading, somewhat shallow analysis of a complex problem. Surely there must be other factors involved: climate, diet, education, income, etc. Finishing the article was vindicating as the author did point out the very same thing: just because there seems to be a pattern, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the two are related. In other words, correlation does not always imply causation2, a term often used by statisticians. The seemingly irrefutable visual evidence seen in so many maps and data visualizations often is the product of sloppy research and/or a biased point-of-view. Anyone can wrangle two or more different data sets and use design some method to state that one causes the other. Sales of compact discs have been declining over the last decade just as

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Throughout history, statisticians and designers have made impactful correlations of two or more variables showing how one causes the other. Sometimes their work even saves lives as in the case of John Snow’s 1854 Cholera map of London. Snow marked on a neighborhood map of Soho all of the houses where people had recently died from the disease as well as all water pumps in the vicinity. He soon could see that the vast majority of the dead were clustered around the Broad street water pump. With this correlation, he had concluded that Cholera was being spread through the water from this pump4. After convincing the city to disable this pump, the number of Cholera-related deaths in the neighborhood sharply dwindled. Florence Nightingale, a nurse during the Crimean War, plotted the causes of death for British soldiers onto a chart of her own invention5 to effectively prove that disease brought on by poor sanitation was the primary cause of death. If I intend to make geography more interesting and intuitive by designing an interactive mapping interface that displays a wide variety of data, I need to be mindful of how its being presented and what sources of information are being used. The intention is to have data neutrality (not taking sides in a statistical conflict or bending the data to create a false story). If that’s not possible, then at least displaying data transparency (showing where the data is coming from and the methodology involved in compiling it). The user should be able to analyze the information presented in Contextus and draw their own conclusions. If the information inherently shows a bias, then its sources should be clear as possible.

Contextus process book


John Snow’s 1854 cholera map of London, a pioneering example of information visualization, one that ended up saving lives by showing clusters of deaths around a particular water pump. The John Snow Archive and Research Companion

1. Schwartz, Ariel. “Mapping The Link Between Obesity And Car Driving” Fast Company. Web. <http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679157/mapping-the-linkbetween-obesity-and-car-driving>. 2. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation>. 3. L evitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. “Introduction.” Freakonomics. New York: William Morrow, 2005. p.10.

Seven: Concept Development

4. Tufte, Edward R.. “Visual and Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Making Decisions.” Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press, 1997. 27–37. Print. 5. T he polar area diagram. Rogers, Simon. “Florence Nightingale, datajournalist: information has always been beautiful.” The Guardian. Aug. 13, 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/aug/13/florence-nightingale>.

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How we look at our world

Opposite: Sketchbook doodles and more refined illustrations attempting to look at the world through other people’s eyes and understand how they see.

Maps, purely as a navigation tool, visually represent the world in spatial terms—how do we get from here to there? The answer lies in spatial relationships of size, orientation, adjacency and distance which utilize some of the conventional mapping tools of scales, projection, latitude & longitude and borders. However, maps as well as all of the geographic data that will populate Contextus, can be viewed in a variety of ways beyond just spatially. The organization of information or data, whether in a map or a spreadsheet, is just as important as the information itself. Essentially there are five main methods of doing so, known as the Five Hat Racks: location, alphabetical, time, category and continuum1. Coined by the designer Richard Saul Wurman, these Five Hat Racks serve to organize data spatially, sequentially, chronologically, by relatedness or by magnitude. Many common charts simultaneously employ two or more of these methods, such as sports brackets (time and magnitude) and zoological/evolution diagrams (time and category). The challenge is choosing the most appropriate tool that best illustrates the information at hand. Maps, thought of as purely spatial in nature, can become thematic, designed through interactive mediums to depict change over time, group data by similarity or sort information by importance. By doing so, it can become relevant to a wider audience. Historians, researchers, reporters and writers tend to look at the world temporally or chronologically. Politicians and economists would view it structurally while government, business and the military would undoubtedly see the world hierarchically. Artists and designers tend to look at the world in a more visual manner. Driving a car from point A to point B, I personally tend to remember the route by seeing a series of visual landmarks—left at Starbucks, right just before the park across the street from the high school. Some may think in terms of time—five minutes on this highway, two minutes on that road. Whereas others may strictly remember the way in terms of structure or hierarchy—take Interstate 95 South and get off exit 54, then turn right on State Road 47. Is there an approach to bridge these ways of thinking & seeing?

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Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at UCLA, attempts to explain in detail much of the world’s history and politics from a spatial (geographic) point of view. In his ambitious books Guns, Germs and Steel2 and Collapse3, Diamond asserts the role of physical geography and native flora and fauna to various society’s successes or failures in world history. He also makes convincing arguments by looking at the world chronologically, structurally and hierarchically and tying it all together spatially, complete with select maps telling the story of human’s evolution from nomadic huntergatherers to city-state civilizations. In his equally important book, Why Geography Matters, geographer Harm de Blij summarizes his definition of geography: Geography is a discipline of diversity, under whose ‘spatial’ umbrella we study and analyze processes, systems, behaviors, and countless other phenomena that have spatial expression. It is this tie that binds geographers, this interest in patterns, distributions, diffusions, circulations, interactions, juxtapositions—the ways in which the physical and human worlds are laid out, interconnect and interact.4

Substitute the word geography with interaction design and you still have an accurate definition. My aim is to create an educational tool to bridge these seemingly different modes of viewing the world. By doing so, the true power and extent of geography can be harnessed to provide a framework for answering the multitude of questions beginning with “why”. Why does this country have such high unemployment? Why is this region so wealthy while their neighbors are so poor? The questions may seem endless, but chances are that geography and the spatial analysis behind it can help answer them.

1. Lidwell, William, Jill Butler, and Kritina Holden. Universal Principles of Design. Gloucester, Mass.: Rockport, 2003. pp.84–85. 2. Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997. 3. Diamond. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005. 4. Blij, Harm J. Why Geography Matters: Three Challenges Facing America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. p.8.

Contextus process book


Spatial U.S. vs. China, landmass and latitude

Structural Time zone regions

Hierarchical Top five U.S. cities by population

Chronological U.S. territorial growth and expansion

Visual Jasper Johns, Map, 1961 Museum of Modern Art

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Data cubes, R.I.P.

The sheer scale of geographical information and the organization of it within Contextus needed some model to make sense of its complexity. One such model is OLAP (online analytical processing)1, a helpful tool for visualizing data—using a cube metaphor to organize and file vast amounts of data from a spreadsheet or multiple spreadsheets. Used mostly for data mining and other computational sciences, data cubes arrange information along x, y and z axes for logical organization. A slice of the cube corresponds to a single value on one axis, while dicing represents two or more slices of data. Even more advanced techniques to extract, consolidate or aggregate information can be used such as drilling up/down, rolling up/down or pivoting2. Although a little more scientific than the needs of my thesis, I appreciated the visualization of an abstract concept. It is a good fit for geography which is comprised of subject, place and time—three axes of data that can be sliced, diced and rearranged to find, tag and visualize data.

time

The basic premise: geography is composed of place, time and a subject. Each of these three variables can be plotted along the X, Y and Z axis within an imaginary cube. The point where they meet is a particular slice of data.

subject

pl ace A concept developed that in using Contextus, one could start to search for information on a specific place, Haiti for example, across multiple times or multiple subjects. Or they could drill down to find everything related to Haiti’s export economy in the 1990s.

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For over a month, I’ve struggled to expand this data cube model from just a metaphor into a design and user interface benefit for Contextus. The data cube was envisioned as a dynamic navigation device that the user would spin, zoom, explode and pick apart to find the exact information they were looking for. The reasoning was that by seeing how information was organized on a magnitude from general to specific, the user would be learning about hierarchies, classification and taxonomy, perhaps without even realizing they were learning. My theory was that they would be learning before they even arrived at the information they wanted to learn about. And the possibilities were endless: one could slice, dice and drill down within a cube to find what they were looking for, discovering cubes within cubes and so on. Notebook sketches were refined into illustrator diagrams, which evolved into three-dimensional models constructed with Legos and animated into spinning cube in Google Sketchup. The problem became apparent that it was too abstract a concept, straying too far from the visual and theoretical conventions of searching and interacting with navigational interfaces. Various thesis critics as well as fellow students had trouble imagining the benefit or the payoff. Plus, it was straying too far from the maps, the dominant visual throughout my thesis. The exploration of how to arrange data in a model like this could rightfully be its own thesis. If time wasn’t as pressing, perhaps the cube could work as planned and demonstrate its value. The OLAP model as applied to Contextus, or more generally geography, would have to filed away for the time being. Although the effort spent on this set me behind schedule, it was by no means a waste of time. The data cube is still a good metaphorical model to explain how the what, where and when information is arranged and retrieved in Contextus. Killing this darling freed more time to pursue answers to the questions of audience, context and content. 1. Zaïane, Osmar R.. “Principles of Knowledge Discovery in Databases.” University of Alberta, Department of Computing Science CMPUT690 (1999). Print. 2. Pandre, Ph.D., Andrew. “OLAP Cubes.” Data Visualization. <http://apandre.wordpress.com/data/datacloud/datacube>.

Contextus process book


More models attempting to explain the abstract concept of data cubes and how it could possibly become a UI navigation for Contextus. Various slices and dices of the cube narrow down the choices of information to be studied and in the process, the means of finding and filtering information becomes an educational tool in itself.

pl ace

subject

time

pl ace

subject

time

pl ace + subject + time

haiti

economy

1990s

haitiâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s economy in the 1990s

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More data cube sketches and models. Right: drilling down reveals data cubes within data cubes, repeatable to a granular level. Below: stills from an animated 3-D cube created in Google SketchUp and exported to a Quicktime movie that spins, tilts and scales.

general

100

specific

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A data cube model constructed of Lego blocks, animated in stop-motion photography to highlight place, time and subject slices and its subsequent intersection. Despite my best efforts, the data cube proved to be too abstract and unfamiliar a concept to be a useful UI element for Contextus.

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Early thoughts about audience

Determining the audience for my thesis project has proved to be an important exercise, one without a clear answer in sight. My highly unscientific formula for showing the interconnectivity of thesis components (see page 93) illustrates the difficulty of identifying an audience when the form and content is still unresolved. Our new thesis development instructor David Womack recently gave an assignment to better define our thesis audience, asking us to be prepared to talk about: • H  ow, when and where your audience might engage with your project • What your audience will contribute to the project

Above and opposite: whiteboard sketches working out various possible features and functionality for different audience types.

What was interesting is that we were asked to think about how, when and why, but not who, something that would become more apparent after this exercise. Instead of immediately narrowing down each category, I present the following lists, along with the extra list of why my audience might engage with my thesis project: Where? • Public installation: a park, museum, office building lobby, subway/bus/train station or stop • Specific event: voting location on election day, conference, presentation auditorium • Specific context: United Nations, 9/11 Memorial, outside TV networks, security checkpoints, schools & universities • Mobile: phone app (in conjunction with a fixed installation), augmented reality (projects contextual info onto nearby relevant surfaces) • Transportation: info seen while driving, flying or using mass transit, in and around transportation hubs • Home: a 21st-century globe (thematic touchscreen sphere), an expansion to the TV set When? • Anytime • Event-driven (election, museum exhibit opening, tradeshows, political negotiations) • Seasonal • Class sessions • Waiting in lines

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• Downtime / leisure time • During transportation or journey to a destination • As a supplement to news consumption How? • Solo / with friends & family • Remote / on-location • Among classmates / among strangers • Obviously / inconspicuously • With confidence • Intuitively / as directed • Passive / proactive • Viewing / contributing • Through an app or website • With the aid of NFC (near-field communications) Why? • To be better informed about world events • To be a more educated voter / consumer / decision maker • To alleviate boredom • To better appreciate geography and all it embodies • To better correlate space/place/time/event • To develop new ways of looking at the world (spatially vs. structurally vs. chronologically, etc.) • To satisfy curiosity • To better understand our neighbors both near and far • To learn how design can affect this thesis area of exploration • To fulfill their job duties or responsibilities What will the audience contribute to the project? • Stories • Statistics and data • Images • Memories • Opinions & perspectives • Experiences • A human voice • Validation (or not) of the technology and design of the project • Feedback for improvement • Inspiration • Knowledge

Contextus process book


With so many possible options, its difficult to draft a user journey just yet. My interests in Contextus’ purpose lie in broadening perspectives and empowering people to become better informed, more engaged citizens. My interests regarding form are based around maps and information visualization while my interest in developing interactions lie in a simple calm interface that hides the density of data. A thoughtful and considered approach to utilizing these interests will yield something of interest not just for myself but others as well. The question still is… who?

JOJO GLICK’S EMAIL RESPONSE 11/15/11 I have been struggling with similar topics as you, Chris. There are two ways to approach the problem of choosing a user base. One if that your audience should come out of your research. So the more you dive into maps, what they mean to both you and within the context of the world as well as the effect you would like to have on the world, the more apparent your audience will become. The second approach is just putting a stake in the ground and running with it for a while to see if it sticks. So if you are interested in children, then you can test that out for a week or two and see how that alters, molds and evolves your thesis. As far as the final artifact, I think that can come a little later in this process and will unearth itself through having an even more in depth understanding of the problem you would like to solve or specific effect you would like to induce on users. What is the impact you eventually would like to have on people? You’re on the right track!

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Deep Diver and the Info Tourist

Through Bloom’s digital taxonomy, an order of thinking and communication skills for operating, understanding and fully utilizing digital products can be organized from high to low:

Designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, designing Comparing, organizing, deconstructing, finding, structuring, integrating Designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, designing Implementing, using, executing Interpreting, summarizing, inferring, classifying, comparing, explaining Recognizing, listing, describing, naming, identifying, retrieving, locating, finding

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy

creating evaluating analy zing applying understanding remembering

One of the ‘optional requirements’ needed to be addressed is that of thesis audience definition, a struggle to define since the beginning of this process. The audience for Contextus always appeared to be so broad and general that it seemed not worth addressing. Since I wasn’t planning on only designing for white males in their 50s with an income over $150K, a different approach was required. As a nod to my service design class the previous semester, I decided to focus more on user goals and motivations; psychographics rather than demographics. To do so, I took a broader view and created a concept map around the core areas of my thesis project: design, technology and geography. After thinking about the technology required for my project, it became clearer the different motivations, needs and technological literacy that various people using this would need to possess. The definition of technological literacy has shifted over the years; not so much about rote skills anymore, but rather the understanding

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and critical thinking of the deeper implications of using technology. A generation ago, being able to use a word processor or create charts in a spreadsheet application fulfilled this definition. With computers today being ubiquitous, user-friendly and interconnected by default, just knowing how to use technology isn’t enough—one must know how to use it wisely. This type of literacy centers on understanding the legal or ethical uses of technology and its consequences (e.g.: posting photos of yourself drunk and vomiting on Facebook for potential employers to see). My personal experience with learning geography in school amounted to memorizing state capitals for memorization’s sake— an academic experience that causes children to grow up uninterested in geography, unable to see (much less utilize) all of the aspects and disciplines within it. Geography helps teach and visually convey such concepts as patterns, distribution, correlation and juxtaposition—all useful for analyzing data and finding answers (or developing hypotheses) for a variety of subjects. For this reason, one possible adaptation could be for educational purposes, targeted towards ‘the budding scholar’ beginning users. Valuable in this research are the learning theories of the educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom. His categorizations of low to high-order thinking skills1 became a helpful model to determine various users’ goals and their interactions with Contextus. While a certain segment of people would be passive consumers of knowledge (‘the info-tourist’), more effort would be directed in designing for those who have a deep interest in learning by analyzing data, evaluating it and hopefully creating and collaborating with others, thereby adding to the world’s organization of knowledge (‘the deep diver’ and ‘the professional researcher’). After identifying the basic users, their motivations, level of technological literacy and their goals became more apparent. Assessing their current tools used for informational searches was derived in part from analyzing the results of my user survey (see page 39). From all of this, a list of basic actions needed to fulfill their goals was compiled and all of this data was organized into a spreadsheet. In turn, this will inform the functions that my final prototype should have, or at least the ones required for a minimum viable product.

Contextus process book


A list of possible types of users for Contextus, their attributes, motivations and goals in using this product. This list along with the user stories (see page 139) alowed me to determine the sorts of features and functionality required.

Thesis User Types Motivation / personality

Current tools

Technological Literacy

Goals

Actions needed

Professional researcher

• Serious research for work or school • Has purpose, clearly defined goals • Research may have tight deadline or take place over extended periods of time • All business

• ArcGIS • Google • Wikipedia • Academic, govt. databases • APIs • Quora • Scholarly books

• High literacy and skills • Highest levels of thinking skills used (Bloom Taxonomy) • Already understands geographic concepts of correlation/causation, distribution, juxtaposition, etc. • Already understands there are relationships between disparate subjects • Knows exactly when/how maps can lie or exaggerate

• Search (advanced, filters) • Find outliers in story, data • Switch views, compare and contrast • Manipulate variables to view alternative outcomes • Bookmark progress • Import custom data • Organize, catalog findings • Share findings • Save, synch, export findings

Deep Diver

• Satisfy personal curiosity • Learn for learning's sake • Has 'sense of duty' to know more • Searches info for personal use • Research is not on a fixed schedule • Wants to be given the tools to find answer themselves • Acquiring knowledge is largely a solo pursuit

• Google • Wikipedia • Academic, govt. databases • Quora • News websites • Twitter • Newspapers/magazines • User forums • NPR • Books

• High levels of thinking skills used (Bloom Taxonomy) • Wants to learn more about geographic concepts of correlation/causation, distribution, juxtaposition, etc. • Wants to learn more about the relationships between disparate subjects • Trusts maps most of the time

• Analyze breaking news or ongoing story • Gather info/facts to write an article, book or research paper • Learn in-depth about a particular subject, place or time period • Predict future events or anticipate "alternative realties" • Find correlations or causations between variables • May contribute knowledge or research to others • May curate or add to the product's database of knowledge • Learn in-depth about a particular subject, place or time period • Explore the concept of "alternative realties" • Learn about correlations or causations between variables • Test their own knowledge • Share findings with others • Find further readings

Armchair geographer

• To look/sound knowledgable • Spreads or advertising personal knowledge • Learning with ulterior motives • Has purpose, clearly defined goals • Spreading knowledge is a social activity

Info tourist

Budding scholar

• Google • Wikipedia • Quora • Ask.com • News websites • Facebook • Twitter • Newspapers/magazines • TV • Daily Show, Colbert Report • Curious, but not focused • Google • To use in short bursts • Wikipedia • Feels social pressure to be more • Quora knowledgable • Ask.com • Looking for brief 'info-tainment' • News websites • Happy to get lost in the info 'rabbit • Facebook hole' • Twitter • Wants to learn, but learning is not • Daily Show, Colbert Report the primary goal • A procrastinator • Uses during quick breaks or commute to work • Student, 5–15 years old (?) • Google • Not necessarily self-motivated • Wikipedia • Learning tool is part of curriculum • Facebook • Get good/passing grade in class • Twitter • Write report for class • IM • TV

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• Search (advanced, filters) • Find outliers in story, data • Switch views, compare and contrast • Manipulate variables to view alternative outcomes • Quiz self • Bookmark progress • Organize, catalog findings • Share findings • Save, synch, export findings • Search • Quiz others • Share findings

• Medium levels of thinking skills used (Bloom Taxonomy) • Has high trust level in maps; uses as proof to an argument • Knows little about core geographic or statistical concepts

• Find answers to a specific question • Share summary findings with others

• Low levels of thinking skills used (Bloom Taxonomy) • Has high trust level in maps • Knows or cares little about core geographic or statistical concepts

• To procrastinate • To gain summary knowledge about a subject or multiple stories • Be able to place personal experience into a larger context

• Browse subjects • Switch views, compare and contrast

• Low levels of thinking skills used (Bloom Taxonomy) • Assume complete trust in maps • Knows little about core geographic or statistical concepts; in the process of learning

• Learn basics of geography, history, informational organization and searching • Learn basics of how different subjects relate to one another • Learn critical thinking skills

• Search / browse subjects • Manipulate variables to affects others • Quiz self • Save / export findings for teacher

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Right and opposite: further explorations in identifying all of the various users, areas of technology, design aspects and facets of geography that surround my thesis. The initial exercise consisted of organizing post-its on the whiteboard, subsequently cleaned up digitally.

Using a method often associated with agile development, I developed a few user stories2. As a way to describe these people, their goals and actions, the user story is a concise statement written from the user’s point-of-view in everyday language: “As a [user type], I want to [some action] so that [some benefit].”

This format and the motivation behind it is not unlike some of the helpful tools used in clarifying my thesis statement of purpose and the concise pitch statements (chapter 6). I drafted several user stories and edited them down to five essential ones: • A  s a junior high school student, I want to learn geography so that I can understand other subjects better. • As an armchair historian, I want to quickly find out about some

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topical story during my commute so that I can engage in intelligent conversations with friends and co-workers. • As an aspiring scholar, I want to gain in-depth knowledge about a particular subject or place so that I can satisfy my curiosity. • As a professional reporter, I want to effectively research, analyze and correlate data through a geo-spatial lens so that I can write a lengthy article for my employer. • As a member of academia, I want to be able to visualize a series of variables in a specific place and time so that I can contribute original knowledge to the world. 1. <http://edorigami.wikispaces.com/Bloom’s+Digital+Taxonomy>. 2. Hagen, Penny, and Michelle Gilmore. “User Stories: A Strategic Design Tool” Johnny Holland | It’s all about interaction. Aug. 13, 2009. <http://johnnyholland.org/2009/08/user-stories-a-strategic-design-tool>.

Contextus process book


Professional researcher

The budding scholar

Colbert Report TV

Deep diver

Waste time

Augmented reality

To hypothesize “what-ifs”

Quora

For work/ school

Twitter NPR

User forums

users

Bloom’s taxonomy level Skills

Organize, bookmark

Knows the tools needed to find answers (or not)

Depth/ breadth

Tone

Find outliers

Quiz self, others

Switch views

Simple to complex

Browse topics, places, time periods

Ease of use

Buttons/ links

Menus User experience

Direct manipulation

Circulation

Concepts

Proximity

Scale

Distribution

Globes Data

Categories

Scalability

Simplicity

Cartography

Video Charts

Content

Maps

Scenario builders

External links

GPS

Satellite imagery

Maps Sociology

Wikis

Disciplines Demographics

GIS Photos

Medium/ display

Signs Statistics

Earth sciences

Text

Politics

Seven: Concept Development

Orientation

geography

design

Hidden/ revealed

Diffusion

Software

Mood

Typography

Density

Juxtaposition

User interface

Color palette

Correlation/ causation

Controls

Stock & flow

Visual design

Compare

Patterns

Tutorial

Relevance

Search

Systems

Hierarchically Visually

Learning curve

Personalization

Brand

Less to more relevant

Structurally

Save/ export

Functions

Chronologically

Info viewing

Compare/ contrast

Manipulate variables

Share

Organize

Import data

Actions

Storage

Familiar to unknown

Predict, anticipate

Spatially

Search

Share

Sees how disparate disciplines relate (or not)

Has trust in maps (or not)

Analyze news story

Synch to cloud

technology

Empathsize, understand others

Write a report, paper, article

Synch, save, export

Understands core geographic concepts (or not)

Open Street Maps Google

Goals

Newspaper/ magazine

Has clear purpose (or not)

News

Large-scale installation

Find correlations

Maps

Infotainment

Sense of duty

Social pressure

Blogs News website

APIs

Sources of content

GPS

Curiosity Motivation

Facebook

Academic databases

Platforms

RSS

To educate others

Wikipedia

Twitter

Mobile (limited functionality)

The procrastinator

Armchair historian

Info sources

Tablet sensors Wikis

Tablet (iOS)

Info tourist

Types

The skeptic Google

Desktop (html) Look/sound smart

Economics

History

Linguistics

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Goals, content, context, audience

In order to move forward not only in determining the audience, content and context for my particular thesis, but its design and execution as well, I needed to take a step back and list all of the high-level goals I created for thesis. Comparing my purpose statement from January (see page 78) with its subsequent revised pitch (see page 81), the difference in clarity and coherence becomes more and more obvious, as I’m able to better articulate my goals and purpose. The development and evolution of the high-level concepts and goals needs to cease to instead focus on more specific ideas and actions that work in service of those high-level goals. Every action and design decision I would end up making from this point on would be compared to the final set of goals that I decided for my thesis.

Above: the beauty of the iPad’s format is being context-agnostic; it could just as easily be used for displaying charts in a business meeting at the office, or in this case, by my then three-year-old son on a sidewalk in Paris to play a game. Opposite: organizing all of my thoughts on audience, goals, content and context on the whiteboard.

Goals • Allow people to become better informed, more engaged citizens of the world. • Make learning geography and all it encompasses more interesting, more fun and more intuitive. • Combine the functionality of Google Map, Wikipedia and Quora in order to bridge the gap between text-based learning and visual-based learning. • Teach basic geographic concepts of juxtaposition, correlation, scale, etc. by showing the connections between subject, place and time (what, where and when). • Demonstrate that geography isn’t just points on a map, it encompasses history, politics, economics, demographics, etc. • Give people the tools to find answers for themselves, thereby creating a more active role for learning. • Create a framework of presenting information to help people retain knowledge better. • Present geography as an evolving, often unresolved ‘soft science’ that can be subjective and open to interpretation. Listed also were audience attributes whether it was demographics (young—old) or psychographics (academic—instinctual) as opposites on a spectrum. While my target audience is generally educated, curious and visual, keeping this category relatively broad should not have a negative impact on developing this product. However, these options will become edited down a little further as the visual and interaction design for Contextus begins:

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knowledgable ........ professional ........ bored ........ curious ........ academic ........ studious ........ multi-tasker ........ A.D.D. ........ teacher ........ general ........

ignorant amateur engaged disinterested instinctual playful specialist focused student niche

young ........ educated ........ tech expert ........ individual ........ conservative ........ mobile ........ adventurous ........ visual learner ........ explorer ........ thinker ........

old uneducated tech novice social liberal stationary tame text learner sedentary doer

Context was a difficult category to narrow down. It could be more specific in a physical context (home, office, an event, etc.) or in a functional context (browsing, researching, casual learning, etc.). Or the context could be the format in which Contextus is presented in, such as an iPad. The beauty of designing an iPad app as my advisor Shawn pointed out is that, in the physical sense, it is contextagnostic. An iPad works just as well in bed at home as it does on the subway or the office. Functionally, Contextus is all about learning geography in the broad sense of the term, and this may involve learning about a particular subject in its contextual location. As more and more schools adopt iPads and other tablet computing devices to aid in teaching curriculum1, Contextus as an iPad app becomes increasingly relevant. Content proved to be equally difficult to better define. Ideally, it should be populated with any subject that has a geo-spatial element to it—a subject that can be associated with a particular (or more than one) place and time. While this may eliminate particle physics from my thesis, it still includes an overwhelming amount of subjects which can be visualized on a map or globe. By treating geography as a soft science that often introduces new, radical concepts (Guns, Germs and Steel and Freakonomics are two examples that come to mind), the content can be introduced as puzzle pieces for the users to assemble, analyze and develop theories of why something happened or didn’t happen.

1. <http://www.ipadinschools.com>.

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The user interface will play a big role not only in how people would navigate through the content but in showing how the content is organized and classified. The act of using the UI should be a learning experience in itself. The data cube model illustrates in the abstract how content can be defined as informationally spatial— organized by time, place or subject. By their very nature, time and place can be organized in logical manners (chronologically and spatially); its the subjects that will require much more thought to as effectively and will most likely need to be organized in a case-bycase manner. By treating the information itself as a place one can navigate to, people can hopefully start to see relationships and patterns that are integral to geography (as well as related subjects such as information science). In conjunction in determining audience, context, content and basic UI principles, listed are the drawbacks of current learning tools and how they’re insufficient… • • • • • •

lengthy dense verbose divorced from geo-spatial context passive directed

Map benefits • its the visual representation and language of geography • conveys abstract or complex theories • can be updated/adapted/customized • its a tool, active in nature when one uses it in search of an answer • can be open-ended: no one, direct path to an answer Game benefits • can be fun • can have multiple outcomes • they’re social by nature • they’re dynamic in execution • provide incentives to achieve goals • skills and knowledge acquired build on top of one another Although Contextus is not a game in any traditional sense, it could become an entertaining method in which to learn. The term gamification implies a rewards system for completing a task, and it does open up some interesting possibilities. For brevity’s sake, however, that is outside the time and scope of this thesis. Lastly, I gathered some late-breaking examples of inspiration to help guide the functionality, interface, content strategy and visual design of Contextus (opposite):

…as well as the benefits adjacent to Contextus… Geography benefits • can view spatial relationships • can view people’s relationship with their physical environment (and vice-versa) • explains behavior • gives insight into history • framework for studying human activity • ties disparate subjects together

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Contextus process book


Powers of ten www.powersof10.com/film A short documentary film written and directed by Charles and Ray Eames, depicting the relative scale of the Universe according to an logarithmic order of magnitude based on a factor of ten.

Code Academy www.codecademy.com An online interactive platform that offers free coding classes in programming languages such as HTML, CSS, Python and Javascript. The site motivates users to participate by offering encouraging feedback and badges for completing exercises.

ChronoZoom Project www.chronozoomproject.org An online program that visualizes time on the broadest possible scale from the Big Bang to the present day, to make time relationships between different studies of history clear and vivid.

Minimal Folio www.simonheys.com/minimalfolio An iPad app to present images and video within a sleek minimalist interface utilizing swipe motions to move between images or sections of a portfolio.

Carmen Sandiego www.carmensandiego.com Franchise of videogames for school children to make learning geography fun. Answering questions successfully revealed more clues and increased the difficulty level.

Tournament brackets Tree charts that organize the games of competing sports teams, funneling them down to the eventual winner.

The Whale Hunt www.thewhalehunt.org Portfolio of documentary photography of an Inuit whalehunt presented in an online experimental interface for storytelling with unique ways to find and filter images by subject, place or time.

Biological taxonomy Method of scientific classification used to rank and categorize organisms into groups such as genus or species.

Spiral evolution charts The origin and development of life on Earth presented as a spiral with a connected but ever-changing landscape.

Apple Grapher itunes.apple.com Mac OS X software program to create 2D and 3D graphs from simple and complex equations, able to create animations of graphs by changing constants or rotating them in space.

Google Finance chart scrubbers www.google.com/finance User interface that dynamically redraws graphs and charts based on a selected time period.

Information Landscape infosthetics.com Data visualization project from MITâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Media Lab depicting financial and other information as intersecting planes in a 3-D space.

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08

prototyping

“Information is political… but its only political in the way you use it. If you use it ultimately as decoration, you’re missing some of the core meaning for our lives.” — neville brody


On testing assumptions

Before the design phase could start, a plan needed to be devised in order to avoid building slapdash prototypes that offer little insight. Listing a set of hunches and educated guesses, derived from research, to work in service of my goals for thesis would benefit greatly in terms of what to test for and how to test for it. My assumptions about geography and how/why people use maps would determine the kinds of prototypes to be built and tested, which in turn would reveal interesting insights and opportunities. Based on all of my readings, expert interviews and analyzed survey results, I drafted eleven assumptions I have concerning geography, information searches and how people will interact with them and their motivations for doing so. A few of these assumptions overlap and could perhaps be consolidated into a single point, while others may fall outside the scope of what I can reasonably build, test and iterate within our thesis schedule. In each case, listed is my hypothesis and a potential prototype I could build in order to test that particular assumption. The original prototyping plan called for a variety of mediums with increasingly fidelity: paper/acetate, Google Earth, SimCity, HTML/Flash, and finally a video augmented with After Effects. This plan became modified on the fly as various assumptions of mine were tested and either lead nowhere or opened up new possibilities.

Assumptions 1. P  eople want to learn from maps and globes (as opposed to just text and/or images). “Attraction factor”: Show the same information in a series of different mediums, asking participants which they would prefer to learn from. “Would you rather learn about urban planning through…?”, then offer participants links to books on the subject, or present them with a SimCity scenario.

2. P  eople retain knowledge better through maps and globes than text and/or images.

3. P  eople trust maps more than other forms of communication (text, images, charts, etc.)—even though maps can easily lie. Show an example of a falsehood in all of these mediums; test to see if people catch the lie and can explain how it is lying.

4. S  witching back and forth between Google Maps and Wikipedia is not as an effective way to search for info as having an allinclusive, comprehensive tool or experience. Use Google Earth as a prototyping tool by inserting place markers on the globe with Wikipedia links. Paper prototype a map with colored stickers that correspond to separate stack of texts or bookmarked books.

5. Inserting relevant smaller historical or personal anecdotes into the larger view of history and geography makes a more enjoyable and educational experience. A/B testing the same story: one with just facts, the other with facts with anecdotes and/or personality and humor… “Teddy Roosevelt’s FourSquare check-ins”. Test for knowledge retained.

6. M  ost people think of geography as just places on a map, not realizing it encompasses other disciplines viewed spatially through the lens of place. Show a consistent historical story through acetate overlays or HTML to illustrate connections between multivariate data such as weather, economics, language, demographics, etc.

7. L ooking at a variety of subjects through a geographic lens will allow one to make unexpected connections between seemingly disparate subjects. Google Earth: show links between countries, people and history through a journey on a spinning globe.

8. B  eing able to connect a set or sets of information (variables) to place and time will enhance the study of that subject. Similar to assumption #2 and can be better illustrated with a data cube or an innovative UI design.

Use a consistent historical story and illustrate it in several mediums; test participant for knowledge retention. A/B testing: paper, then Google Earth prototypes

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9. G  eography can spatially analyze systems, processes, behaviors, patterns, distributions, juxtapositions and interactions simpler than text alone for the viewer. SimCity scenario hack: setup a series of sliders where moving one affects the others (e.g.: increased birth rate â&#x2020;&#x2019; decreased resources â&#x2020;&#x2019; lower GDP).

10. Giving people the tools to find an answer is more rewarding and effective for them than simply giving them the answer. A/B testing: The A group can be given a question with either the answer on back of of a piece of paper or a computer to look it up the answer easily. The B group is given the same question with paper or a Google Earth prototype to put pieces together and solve it themselves. ask both groups for the answer and the reasons why it is the answer. Alternatively, have only group and give all participants both methods from above, testing them after each method for their opinions, experience and knowledge retained.

11. As more people continue to search for information and get their news via Twitter, they will expect and be more receptive to a similar UI and manner of content organization. Build a Twitter-esque UI into paper and/or HTML prototypes.

For the sake of time, my focus was edited down to just the assumptions that best helped achieve my higher-level goals and chose prototyping methods that could be feasibly built with easily identifiable metrics of success. Having one particular assumption either confirmed or refuted through testing will then inform the next step in this process. The final prototype would be designed and built based on the insights and opportunities revealed through this process.

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Prototype 1: acetate maps

After slowly working on various experiments that were independent of any hypotheses that were developed (see Chapter 5), I needed to build some prototypes that would eventually lead to my final version of Contextus. To get there, assumptions i held needed to be tested and assessed. I analyzed the assumptions I had listed on maps, on people, and on people using maps to find information and narrowed down that list to focus to the ones that could provide the most valuable insight. Due to our tight thesis schedule, I decided to build just two in-depth prototypes from that list. This first prototype required a considerable amount of planning and research before it could even be built, let alone tested. Looking for a more in-depth analysis of history for this prototype, inspiration was taken from Jared Diamond’s Collapse, which tells the other side of the equation of human history to his earlier Guns, Germs and Steel. Whereas Guns examines why some cultures developed technologies or immunities that allowed them to prevail over the centuries, Collapse analyzes the reasons behind the decline and fall of some of those once-successful civilizations.

Preliminary sketches planning for the construction, execution and goals of this first prototype.

This prototype under construction would attempt to shed light on a few key assumptions made earlier: • P  eople want to learn from maps and globes (as opposed to just text and/or images). • People retain knowledge better through maps than text and/ or images. • Most people think of geography as just places on a map, not realizing it encompasses many other disciplines viewed spatially through the lens of place. • Giving people the tools to find an answer is more rewarding and effective for them than simply giving them the answer. What was essentially being tested was a participant’s retention of knowledge after using both maps and plain text—how much they would remember after using either tool—and their respective ease of use. Since the plan was to build a tool that allows users to find answers to their questions themselves, I was also testing to see exactly how they would use this prototype. Since so much of anything based on visual materials is subjective in nature, of particular interest to me was seeing the different ways people would read into the maps and information. What would they would find important

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and why? Which details would they focus on, which details would they ignore, and which details would they completely miss? The concept behind this prototype was to examine the differences between Haiti and the Dominican Republic which both share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Although both countries were established as European colonies around the same point in time and both share a long history of dictatorships and military coups, Haiti fares much worse than its neighbor in almost every measurable aspect. From life expectancy to unemployment to literacy or to GDP, the Dominican Republic outperforms Haiti, often by a wide margin. I envisioned a tool that could help illustrate the causes for their divergent histories, which are both geographic and man-made. Much of the source information for this prototype was adapted from Diamond’s book1 as well as the CIA’s World Factbook2. From this research I started creating thematic maps that conveyed the statistics and theories that illustrated the story of Hispaniola. Some showed natural/geographic differences such as rainfall, wind patterns, elevations & topography, while others showed man-made influences such as historical events, imports/ exports and population density. Although most of these maps could not explain the story of Hispaniola individually, the hope was that by using 2 or 3 maps in conjunction with each other correlations could be revealed and provide some answers for the users.

1. Diamond, Jared M. “One Island, Two Peoples, Two Histories: The Dominican Republican and Haiti.” Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin Books, 2005. pp.329–357. 2. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook>.

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Left: one of the participants fanning through the various acetate layers of map information pertaining to the geography and history of Hispaniola. Following spread: the various thematic maps in the prototype that offered clues to Hispaniolaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s topography, weather, demographics and history.

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Participants were first given this brief introduction to the contrasts between Haiti and the Dominican Republic along with some key statistics. Then they were asked to keep in mind the following question as they continued: If the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and were founded by Europeans around the same time, why did their political, economic and ecological histories unfold so differently? Why is Haiti so much poorer?

A brief introduction to Hispaniola Haiti and the Dominican Republic share a 120-mile-long border on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. It is the 22nd-largest island in the world, slightly smaller than South Carolina. Hispaniola was also the site of the first European colony in the New World, after Columbus landed there during his first voyage in 1492. Although the Dominican Republic is considered a poor nation, it is far better off than Haiti in almost every measurable aspect. The Dominican Republic shares many of the same problems of developing countries, such as unemployment and government corruption, yet its economy continues to grow and modernize. In stark contrast, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Facts & Figures

Haiti

Dominican Republic

9,801,664 ..................... 938 .................................

p o p u l at i o n

p o p u l at i o n d e n s i t y

(people per sq. mile)

23 .............................................

b i r t h r at e

8 .................................................

d e at h r at e

10,088,598 �������������������������������� 536

���������������

�������������������������������������������

(per 1,000 people)

�����������������������������������������������

(per 1,000 people)

52 .........................................

i n fa n t m o r ta l i t y

��������������������������������������

(per 1,000 people)

1.9% .................................... 62 .......................................... 53% ..................................... $1,200 ....................

19

h i v /a i d s r at e

4

21

0.9% ��������������������������������������� 77 ����������������������������������� 87% ����������������� $9,300

����������������������������������

l i f e e x p e c ta n c y

l i t e r a c y r at e

g r o s s n at i o n a l p r o d u c t

40% ............................... 80% ..................... 1% ..............................

(per capita)

u n e m p l o y m e n t r at e

13% ������������������� 42% �������������������������� 32%

������������������������������

p o p u l at i o n b e l o w p o v e r t y l i n e

n at u r a l f o r e s t r e m a i n i n g

Source: CIA World Factbook (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook)

The basemap of the island was printed and mounted on cardboard. Each thematic map was printed on acetate transparencies and bound to the basemap with a round-hole fastener. To initiate this test, the participants were given a brief written introduction to the problem, a set of facts & figures about the two countries and the one question they should ask themselves (the one I would ask of them later). As a learning tool alternative to the maps, I condensed Diamond’s 29-page chapter on Hispaniola into a two-page summary on the island. The plan was to give half of the participants the text first then ask them the question, then give them the maps, seeing if their answer changed at all, finally asking them which format they preferred to learn from and why. The other half of my participants would get the maps first and the text second. I asked both groups to use the stack of map acetates any way they saw fit, talking through their process aloud, describing what they were doing and why.

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After testing this on six participants was completed, there were several results to synthesize. Some people were already knowledgable about Hispaniola’s two countries, while others never heard the name before. Some people retained knowledge better by reading text, while others learn better through visual aids such as the maps (alluding to different ways of looking at the world, see page 96). Five people leafed through the acetates in the order they were bound (even though I stated in the beginning of the test that they were in no order of importance, just grouped by category); only one participant fanned the maps out like a deck of cards, looking for relationships between them in an associative manner (the lawyer of the group). People tended to enjoy the physical interaction of layering the maps as they wished and had a sense of satisfaction by overlaying them to find new insights. There was satisfaction in seeing some people combine the wind pattern, topography and rainfall maps with the export maps to conclude

Contextus process book


One island, two histories Some of the reasons for Haiti and the Dominican Republic’s divergent histories are environmental, while others are man-made. After Columbus’s landing on Hispaniola, the island became a Spanish colony, and most of the island’s Indian population either died from disease or assimilated with the colonists. Around 1520, Hispaniola developed an economy based on sugar production for which they imported slaves from Africa. This was a prosperous colony until Spain’s attention turned to even more lucrative lands to exploit such as Mexico, Peru and Bolivia. Spain devoted less time and resources to its colony on Hispaniola and eventually Spain itself went into political, economic and military decline, much to France’s benefit. France established a settlement on the western side of the island, far from the eastern Spanish side. Now richer and more powerful, France imported slaves to a much higher degree than the Spanish to develop a plantation system, eventually totaling over 700,000 slaves, outnumbering the colonists 10 to 1. A slave rebellion broke out in 1804 and defeated the French army. After France abandoned the island, the newly independent Haiti’s former slaves killed or drove away most of the European colonists, destroyed the lucrative plantation system and banned foreign investment or land ownership. These decisions proved disastrous for Haiti’s agricultural productivity, exports and human resources. Control over the island shifted back-and-forth between the two former colonies for much of the 19th-century. Both of these new nations shared a history of repressive dictatorships and military coups. However, the Dominican Republic, as it was now known, welcomed immigration and foreign investment and was lucky to benefit from favorable geography.

that Hispaniola’s bisecting mountain range prevents much rainfall from reaching Haiti, thereby affecting soil fertility and limiting crop production for the more densely-populated western half of the island. Likewise, connections were made between Dominican Republic’s more developed infrastructure of roads, highways and railways and their lower death toll from earthquakes similar in magnitude compared to Haiti.

A series of mountain ranges running north to south bisect Hispaniola, with some peaks over 10,000 feet high. Caribbean wind patterns generally travel from east to west, bringing with it tropical rains. These mountains block much of that rain from reaching the Haitian side. Rivers from those mountains mostly flow eastward toward the Dominican side, creating lush valleys with fertile soil. This natural advantage would be instrumental in developing an agicultural export economy based on sugar, tabacco and coffee. In contrast, Haiti’s smaller, less arable land made timber its main export. By the mid-19th century, Haiti was largely striped of trees, and today less than 2% of Haiti remains forested, creating massive erosion and enviromental disaster. Conversely, the Dominican Republic created a national park system which covers 32% of their land.

Half of the participants were given the set of acetate maps first to study and then were asked for their educated guess to the answer to why Haiti is less fortunate than the Dominican Republic. They were then given this written explanation. The other half of the participants were given the text first, followed by the maps.

To outside eyes, the Dominican Republic had a population of predominantly European ancestry that welcomed immigrants and investors, who added skilled professionals contributing to the country’s development, while Haiti’s former African slaves were hostile to foreign investment. In recent times, the Dominican Republic built a tourism industry and industrialized into a manufacturing and service-based economy, while still retaining farmland and natural preserves. Haiti’s chronic succession of military dictators, coupled with its depletion of natural resources led to environmental and economic disaster which continues today. Less fertile soil, a smaller percentage of arable land and a much higher population density all contribute to Haiti problems which led to more than a million Haitians emigrating to the Dominican Republic (most illegally) in search of work where they now make up almost 11% of the population.

were not; other minor graphic or labeling choices were pointed out as being confusing or misleading. A few participants read more into the historic maps than intended—whether it was concern for their accuracy, if there existed any conspiracies in their portrayal or if there were any ‘missed opportunities’ by early settlers.

This prototype certainly wasn’t without its flaws. It was difficult to make the information and facts on both the maps and the text match one-hundred percent. The infographics were a bit rushed for my tastes and not up to Tufte or Feltron-like standards of clarity. Some pie charts appeared to people as if they were contextual to their exact point on the map (imports/exports) when in fact they

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Participants were asked to use this prototype anyway that made sense to them. Some flipped through the maps in the order they were presented, while others fanned the entire set out to get an overview of the big picture and started to make associations between various maps in their own way.

Insights derived • P  hysical interactions are valuable; people generally thought this format lent itself to the process of discovery. However, this may be difficult to simulate digitally on a screen. • The overlays were being used as tools to help people find the answers to a question for themselves, as opposed to scholarly text telling them the answers. • Reading the text is passive; combining the maps together was likened to putting a puzzle together which offered a sense of accomplishment. • Some people prefer text to visual learning aids (and vice-versa); both types of people should be accommodated. • Exercise caution with graphics or charts that could be misleading in the slightest—it distracts people from the task or story at hand. • The history of Hispaniola has connections to other parts of the world (colonial powers of France and Spain, the slave trade from Africa) and it should be shown within the larger context of world history. This is something to concentrate on for the next prototype. • Some participants were hypothesizing “what-if?” scenarios, which could become a feature in Contextus.

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The most original comment on this prototype came from one participant who said that using these maps made him empathize with the plight of Haiti. After looking over all of the maps and text, using a cybernetic term, he added, “Haiti just didn’t have requisite variety.”

The next step to evolve this prototype involved visually placing the history of Hispaniola within the context of the larger history of the world via a Google Earth interface. With this, further tests of participants’ awareness of geographic concepts of correlation, patterns, distribution or juxtaposition can be made. Another next step would build a tool allowing people to view alternative outcomes of history by manipulating statistics on a map. The goal would be to increase the joy users would have while discovering information for themselves.

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Prototype 2: Google Earth

The first prototype evolved from acetate layers as its medium to using Google Earth. Participants took a tour of the history of Hispaniola in an attempt to answer the question of why Haiti’s natural geography as well as man-made decisions caused a marked decline from neighboring Dominican Republic. The app Silverback was used to record both the participants’ faces/voices and their on-screen actions.

This second full-fledged prototype expanded the basic premise of the first one and evolved its format and presentation from a physical experience to a digital one. Revisiting the case study of Hispaniola and the graphics I created to tell its story, I built a detailed information tour within Google Earth1. Images and historic maps were superimposed onto their current physical location on this virtual globe and various points could now be connected through animated ‘fly-overs’. Working within Google Earth’s limitations proved to be labor-intensive but worth the effort. As with the first prototype, I was testing some previously-held assumptions of mine, including:

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• S  witching back and forth between Google Maps and Wikipedia is not as an effective way to search for info as having an allinclusive, comprehensive tool or experience. I would integrate the text directly into the globe. • Looking at a variety of subjects through a geographic lens will allow one to make unexpected connections between seemingly disparate subjects. I now could show links between Haiti and France, Dominican Republic and Spain, as well as Africa through a journey on a spinning globe. • As more people continue to search for information and get their news via Twitter, they will expect and be more receptive to a similar UI and manner of content organization. Although

Contextus process book


The animations and transitions within Google Earth, clumsy are they were, added an element of discovery that the preceding prototype lacked. The history of Hispaniola gained greater context to the rest of the world as the tour included the colonial powers of Spain and France, the slave trade with Africa and regional weather patterns.

I could not build a Twitter-esque UI into google Earth, I could observe how people receive and interact with the organization of the content.

Silverback2 to record both the on-screen activity and each participant’s face and voice, as well a secondary camera to record from a different vantage point. Participants were asked to talk through their process aloud: what they were doing and why.

Assumptions examined in the first prototype were also revisited: • P  eople want to learn from maps (as opposed to just text). • People retain knowledge better through maps than text alone. • Most people think of geography as just places on a map, not realizing it encompasses other disciplines viewed spatially through the lens of place. • Giving people the tools to find an answer is more rewarding and effective for them than simply giving them the answer. Additionally, two new assumptions for this experiment were conceived, based on the insights gained from the previous prototype: • P  eople will generally follow a tour or set of menu options in the order it is presented unless there is a compelling reason to do so otherwise. • Placing the main subject (in this case, Hispaniola) in its context to the rest of the world better completes the story and helps people grasp and retain ideas better. A common suggestion that I heard from the acetate prototype was that, by having the maps cropped in on just the island, Hispaniola was divorced from its context to the rest of the world. Participants were given the same introduction and question as before. Like the previous acetate prototype, half of the participants were provided with the text answer first followed by the maps, then switching that order for the other half. The Google Earth tour took users on a five-hundred year journey from Europe to Hispaniola to Africa, zooming, panning and tilting over mountain ranges, oceans, coastlines and cities. I employed the usability testing software

Eight: Prototyping

The positive feedback this prototype received indicated that the visuals made more of an emotional impact (especially the Haiti earthquake graphics) which helped reenforce the text. Some people enjoyed getting ‘lost’ and straying off the actual tour, spending time to spin and zoom the globe just for fun. A few people liked formulating theories and playing historian when looking at the various maps, as opposed to being ‘spoon-fed’ information from the text. All of the participants said that they could more clearly see the geographic disadvantages that Haiti has. My prototype got quite a bit of (constructive) criticism as well. Some captions were not clear in describing their content and some of the terms, such as topography, could have been better defined. One person thought that the information in the pop-up boxes created a responsibility to memorize the text. Transitions between displaying antique maps over the Google maps were described as jarring and the spinning globe animations distracted some from the message. Like the previous prototype, few of the charts (exports, literacy) didn’t relate to their physical placement on the map and caused a bit of confusion. As a testament to the ambiguous way the information was presented, there was some uncertainty what exactly was the cause and what was the effect—namely, did immigration to the Dominican Republic in turn cause a higher GDP or was that its effect? (Or both?)

1. Download the .kmz file (16MB) of the tour for Google Earth: <http://www.isotope221.com/tumblr/Hispaniola-tour.kmz>. 2. <http://silverbackapp.com>.

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Participants had varying degrees of success both in navigating the awkward UI within Google Earth and answering this experiment’s question of Haitian geography and history.

The biggest criticism was directed at the UI itself which was expected. Designing this prototype within Google Earth’s constraints proved challenging. Participants had to click three times for each ‘stop’ on the tour: once on a checkbox to see the image overlay, once on the underlined text to view the informational pop-up and a double-click on the large text to zoom to that view. Anticipating this would be a headache and a steep learning curve, it just reenforced the idea of making the UI and task flow for my final product as simple as possible. A helpful suggestion for improvement was to include source information for the antique maps. With this, a viewer could understand who drew these maps and where they came from, in case they were skewed to favor one country or colony over another. Another piece of advice was to include more varied zoom levels for the tour. Currently there are regional views (the Caribbean) or national views (the whole of Hispaniola); by adding zoomed-in local views of a particular city, one can make better sense of the details that make up these two diverging nations.

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Some conclusions and insights made from this prototype: • A  ppeal as much as possible to all types of learners, but focus more on the visual learners. Those who respond best to textbased learning might not benefit as much from this experience and may find it distracting or even trivial. • Rethink the current categorization and organization of the tour options. As with my first prototype, most people simply went in the order that the tour was listed in. Allow people to pose their own questions and subsequently their own tours. • Avoid distracting visual design or animation. Busy or gratuitous visuals compete with the message and purpose of this product. • Strike a balance between guided learning and self-exploration. If its too structured, it may feel like a slideshow; if its too loose, it may feel confusing, unresolved and ambiguous in nature. • Be clear about cause and effect. Exceptions could be made if the goal is to get people thinking about and developing their own theories about geography.

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09 design

“Be mindful of how you render your maps.” — michael yap


Principles of design

As the period of research and ideation transitions into actual design work, certain standards of aesthetics, usability and organization had to be observed and heeded. Universal Principles of Design became a valuable resource for listing the most important examples of timeless design rules1 whether applied to fine art, digital interfaces or scientific categorizations. Out of the book’s 100 design principles, I identified the eighteen that would be most beneficial as I dive into the UI, UX and visual design of Contextus: 80/20 rule A high percentage of effects in any large system are caused by a low percentage of variables.

Above: the book that won’t go out of style. All of the principles described are timeless and can just as easily apply to print, web, motion or interaction design. Opposite: applying some of the most relevant principles from the book to my thesis and the design of Contextus.

Five Hat Racks Five ways to organize information: category, time, location, alphabetical and continuum (magnitude). Flexibility-Usability Tradeoff As the flexibility of a system increases, its usability decreases. Form Follows Function The beauty of design results from purity of function. Hick’s Law The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number of given alternatives.

Chunking A technique of combining many units of information into a limited number of units so that it is easier to remember and process.

Hierarchy Organizing structure for visualizing and understanding complexity.

Comparison A method of illustrating relationships and patterns in system behaviors by representing two or more variables in a controlled way.

Hierarchy of Needs Basic needs must be identified and met before attempting to satisfy higher-level needs.

Consistency The usability of a system is improved when similar parts are expressed in similar ways.

Mapping A good relationship between controls and their effects, resulting in greater ease of use.

Constraint A method of limiting the actions that can be performed on a system.

Ockham’s Razor Given the choice between functionally equivalent designs, the simplest design should be selected.

Control The level of control provided by a system should be related to the proficiency and expertise of the people using it. Cost-Benefit An activity will be pursued only if its benefits are equal or greater than the costs.

Rule of Thirds A technique of composition in which a medium is divided into thirds, creating aesthetic positions for the primary elements of a design. Signal-to-Noise Ratio The ratio of relevant to irrelevant information in a display.

Fitts’ Law The time required to move to a target is a function of the target size and distance to the target. 1. Lidwell, William, Jill Butler, and Kritina Holden. Universal Principles of Design. Gloucester, Mass.: Rockport, 2003.

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Naming your baby

Naming a thesis product can be akin to naming one’s baby: it should be concise, aspirational, poetic and free of misconceptions. Like the competitive analysis that preceded this, the naming was both indicative of my thesis’s goals, purpose and ideals as well as a reflection of what I want my thesis to be: a practical product as well as an academic exploration. The name had to invoke the general feeling of my thesis, directly or indirectly describe its most important attributes and just plain sound good while saying it aloud. So much time and effort is spent naming a product or service—one only gets a first chance to make a great first impression. Contextus ended up becoming the name that best exemplifies an iPad app that presents information through a geographic lens to help people become better informed and more engaged citizens.

Aaron Walter’s proved very helpful in thinking about brand personality and conducting naming exercises.

After having conducted extensive naming exercises and drafting lists of possible name candidates, I ended up choosing the working title that I devised in just five minutes and used throughout the semester. If design could be broadly placed in one of two camps— intuitive or reasoned—this process started on intuition and was eventually confirmed by reason. These naming exercises of competitive namescaping and name type continuums were immensely helpful and actually validated my early choice by putting it through the rigors of testing and evaluation. By using Aaron Walter’s Designing for Emotion1 and his design persona template as a guide, augmented with various naming/branding materials, determining the name that best encapsulated my thesis was underway. The process started by listing all of the keywords, attributes and experiential descriptors that I associated with my thesis. Looking at the theses from the previous year’s class and well-known product names in general, I listed the different types of naming schemes: • Combinations  of two existing words (Obtract, Wikipedia) • Latin or Latin-derived translations (Quora, Expedia) • Common terms for a desired end result or user behavior (Hobnobber, Duet) • Descriptive or plain-talk (Slow Eats, Words with Friends) • Empty vessel (Boxee, Hulu, Amazon) • Unusual spelling of a common term (Orbitz, Flickr) • Description of specific function (Turntable.fm, Skillshare) • Suggestive metaphor (Kayak, Twitter)

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produc t at tribute Wikimapia

The World

Google Maps

••

descriptive

Google Earth

What Was There

Contextus

Wikipedia

Quora

empt y vessel

suggestive Mondo Window

Manhatta Project

History Pin

produc t e xperience

With this in mind, I plotted a competitive namescape, using the same product examples from my competitive analysis (see page 43). The X-axis indicates where names fall on a range of descriptiveness and the Y-axis shows if the name can be more aligned with the product’s attributes or with the experience of using it. Contextus is a fairly suggestive description more aligned with its specific attributes. With the help of some of my classmates, I narrowed down my list of 80+ names to five contenders: Contextus — Noesis — Versed — Notion — Inquisit

While each of these names had beneficial qualities for various reasons, Contextus still remained the best fit. Noesis sounds cryptic and could be prone to mispronunciation, while Versed was possibly too literary in feeling. Notion comes across as a little too passive while Inquisit suffers from the opposite problem and may conjure associations with the Spanish Inquisition. Latin for “the structure of”, Contextus has a scholarly feel without being heavy-handed. The word context works well with my goal of showing people information through a geographic lens in the context of place and time. It also has a friendly, spirited personality and sounds like an action verb spoken as “context us”. Best of all, the domain name of getcontext.us was available.

Contextus process book


Thesis name process

Thesis names

Keywords geography scholar research information visualize context place time subject tools

answers questions discover explore map conclusion spatial relationship knowledge theory

open-ended dynamic inform engage retain bridge useful integrate intuitive learn

experience cube navigate curious puzzle correlation interpret(ation) insight perspective speculate

Attributes inviting informative exploratory scholarly knowledgable dynamic insightful intuitive engaging

(the) medium subjective objective deep broad authorative credible active academic

transparent visual creation inspiring adaptable compelling encompassing functional original

educational encouraging comprehensive unique factual guiding

Product experience Guided learning perspective-changing eye-opening open to interpretation self-paced rabbithole erudition

Nine: Design

active enlightening slightly addictive forum fun puzzle-solving logical

Sketches and more refined lists of all the naming possibilities associated with subject attributes or experiences that led to the final name of Contextus.

Latin-derived Notitia (information, data) Pontem (bridge) Utilis (useful) Intuitiva (intuitive) Tribus (three) Tertius (third) Discere (learn) Cubus (cube) Contextus (the structure of) Reddo (answer) Invenire (discover) Tabula (map, catalog) Senio (six)

Affinitas (relationship) Ratio (the reason) Scientia (knowledge) Canonica (theory) Altus, Altum (deep) Illuminare (enlighten) Scholaris (educational) Quantus (what) Quid (why) Terra (earth) Definire (formulate) Metiri (measure)

Synonyms Beacon In Situ Traverse Ascertain Noēsis Gnostic Sagacious Cognito

Cognizance TopoPeruse Attain Versed Fathom Tome Capacity

Dive Cubit Exemplar Docent Notion Percept(us) Excursion Wayfarer

Inquisit Posit Ruminate Vista Circumstance Nexus

Miscellaneous Connecture Maprehend 3ography here/there elsewhere Mapacity

Maptize Mapacious Mappit Mapminder Maptic Mappen

Mappening Mapkin Geopardy Geonatal Geonicity Geocentric

Mapology Mappendium Smartography

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The individuals that best represent the qualities of Contextus. Clockwise from upper left: Michael Palin, Alex Trebek, Steven Levitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jacques Cousteau and Charlie Rose.

dominant

www.palinstravels.co.uk www.jeopardy.com Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press Dennis Stock / Magnum Photos www.cousteau.org www.charlierose.com

Contextus

unfriendly

friendly

submissive

Personality map On a personality map, Contextus is close to neutral on the dominant side and is above neutral on the friendly side.

Brand Personality If Contextus were a person, it would most likely be represented by Michael Palin (the traveler) with a dash of Alex Trebek (the quizmaster), Jacques Cousteau (the explorer), Charlie Rose (the interviewer extrordinaire), Steven Levitt (the forward-thinker) and Henri Cartier-Bresson (the documentarian artist). Palin started his career in comedy as a founding member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but since then has become a travel writer and documentarian, even becoming the president of the Royal Geographic Society. His inquisitive, calm nature along with his passion for geography and understated sense of humor captures the essence of Contextus. Brand traits Contextus embodies certain traits while avoiding others… ACADEMIC but not stuffy DYNAMIC but not distracting FUN but not trivial KNOWLEDGABLE but not arrogant GUIDED but not overbearing DEEP but not bottomless BROAD but not shallow

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Voice Contextus keeps any dialog or messages on the simple and direct side without being condescending or cryptic. Its about streamlining the process of finding information and has a limited voice to reflect that. Like the Charlie Rose analogy, Contextus asks intelligent questions and then stays out of the way to hear the answer. Visual Identity The color palette of Contextus will be largely comprised of neutrals with a touch of bright colors for accents or calls to attention. Its typography will consistent of two main typefaces: a bold, clean, slab-serif font to style headlines and sector headers, paired with a versatile family of sans-serif fonts for extended description copy. They will both be “workhorse” typefaces that are legible, readable and have enough personality as to not be confused for Helvetica or Times New Roman, yet not be trendy, overused or overshadow the content. The cartography itself should become branded in subtle manners, not be confused for Google Maps or any other popular web-based maps, while incorporating Contextus’s color palette and design sensibility.

1. Walter, Aarron. Designing for Emotion. New York, N.Y.: A Book Apart / Jeffrey Zeldman, 2011.

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Use cases, sitemaps and task flows

Finally reached the point of starting to visualize my thesis and make it tangible.

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Apple’s Coverflow and Time Machine: two innovative examples of user interfaces that organize subjects, display hierarchies and visualize chronologies.

Using my list of thesis goals (see page 110) as a blueprint, I compared every action I was taking, every design decision I was proposing and made sure it was in service to those goals. If they were not helping to accomplish them, those actions were extraneous and therefore cut from the list of features and functions. As my classmate Tina observed, engineers or marketers can explain a product’s utility or set of features; designers are good at framing the story and utilizing empathy to make that emotional connection with the end user. As an iPad app, Contextus has a multitude of features, but before the story to entice the user could be created, it needed a clear scope to avoid filler or feature creep. Taking a cue from software development, a use case list was drafted in the format of: As a [user type], I want to [action] so that I can [fulfill a goal].

Each of these use cases was given a priority from one to three, with all of the one’s definitely being included in the preliminary designs. The 35 listed use cases were helpful to start thinking about features and to be able to sketch screen design, user interfaces and the overall experience.

histogram by how much information exists within the database that populates Contextus. What followed next were generalized task flows based on my use cases. These include: • F  inding information by a direct search, browsing topics or viewing the question of the day. • The globe zooming to a particular location. • Multiple side panels with relevant information to a particular subject, place and time. • Contextual menus and icons of thumbnail maps. • Sorting/organizing the different map layers. • Changing the perspective, adjusting the map opacity. • Playing with “what-if” scenarios through a series of javascript sliders (see page 150). • Typing and submitting a hypothesis about a particular question. • Viewing the questions, hypotheses and responses from the Contextus community. • Comparing two or more subjects/places/time periods. • Saving/exporting your searches and found information.

I began thinking some more about how to approach visualizing geographic information in this app, from time scrubbers, subject histograms, hierarchy trees, chronological layering, polar diagrams and of course a spinning globe. A high priority was made for the user to be able to display information in a variety of ways, in whichever method makes the most sense to them and the most logical format for the given information. Place can be found by selecting from an alphabetical or categorical list, or by spinning a globe and zooming in on a particular area. Time can be manipulated by dragging a scrubber or flicking a set of panels, à la Apple’s Coverflow or Time Machine. Subject is a more involved and complex entity which can be represented as a list of text, a series of icons in some order of magnitude, categorized within broader subjects or visualized in a

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Contextus use cases As a...

I want to...

So that I can...

new user

register with Contextus find my friends browse topics watch tutorial/take a tour get info/learn about Contextus subscribe search topics change map views pan/tilt/zoom the map organize/arrange my maps or info save my searches, maps, etc. go back get info

save my info & preferences collaborate with them find topics that interest me learn how Contextus works find out who/how/why it was created follow new additions to Contextus find exactly what I'm looking answers for switch between physical and political base maps customize my view of the map to suit my needs gather the tools to find an answer easily access them in the future start from a previous point/view read the details about a particular map/time/place/subject reference particular maps (or points on a map) in the future customize the layout for greater legibility to my preferences let other users know what I found or hypothesized let friends and other non-members about it have a hardcopy version of it view it in different formats (PDF, JPG, CSV) or on different platforms (Mac OS, Windows, etc.) view them in a variety of ways: alphabetical, categorical, chronological, by location, by continuum (magnitude) find what I'm looking for so that I can see how subjects are organized or categorized i can see or remember how I got to a particular answer; show others let the creators of Contextus if there are bugs or give any suggestions for improvement view the map underneath in order to see connections between maps show the Contextus community my answers/theories access all of my maps/data from any computer find particular keyword(s) in the info text make connections and find correlations get contextual help/advice use the app in a way that is most intuitive and comfortable for me hypothesize what could have happened or might happen in the future see their differences and commonalities

1 2 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

see place, time and subject visualized in different/more appropriate ways (histogram, data cube, etc.) dive right into a previous inquiry without worrying about forgetting the question learn more about that particular place in its context

1

existing user

mark favorite / add bookmark change the type size, color, font share my maps to FB, TW, Tumblr, etc. share Contextus print map / story / info save/export a map or story sort my subjects search by time/place/subject record/trace actions leave feedback change map opacity post my answer / map set/ recorded actions login search info show related maps and overlays turn on/off hints adjust my Contextus preferences visualize "what if" scenarios for a particular subject compare countriesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; scale, latitude, climate, demographics, etc. change the data navigation view store/organize/retrieve previously asked questions be alerted (pinged?) to the proximity of a particular physical location

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Priority

In an effort to gauge what features and functions Contextus would need, a list of user stories was written to reveal the needs of different types of people. Although Contextus is meant to reach a wide audience and could only identify new and existing users, dozens of features were determined by this simple writing exercise.

1 2 2 1 3 2 1 1 3 1 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 1 1

2 3

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New to my list of features was an answer forum. Inspired by the questions & answer website Quora, I envisioned a tool that allows users to hypothesize their own answers to the questions of geography. These answers in turn would spark discussion and debate among the “Contextus community”. Discussing this with Shawn, he noted that it provided a subtle feedback loop where the system encourages digging deeper and facilitates the ability for people to share answers with each other.

On Apr 18, 2012, at 11:21 PM, Shawn Allen wrote:

thinking about it now, there probably would be two levels of data collection, aggregation and curation:

Oh yeah, the data! That’s important, innit? Yeah, I think a lot of it could come from CIA, Census, the UN, World Bank, etc. The UN & World Bank’s sites have a ton of stuff: http://data.un.org/ http://data.worldbank.org/ For curation, you basically have two options: staff a team of experts to do it, or crowdsource the entire thing. When we talk about these types of systems we usually suggest having experts seed it, then invite the public to do the rest—OpenStreetMap style. Workflow is another hairy problem. Basically, if you invite the public to do your work for you, you’d better build a nice, easy-to-use system for people to do their work in. Startups will sometimes auto-link or mechanical turk a big hunk of data to start, then refine with additional investment. Is that enough ammo for you? Glad to hear that the presentation went well, and let me know if you think of any other tricky questions before your defense. Cheers, Shawn

1) straight data and statistics from a variety of sources: US Census Bureau, CIA World Factbook, NGOs, etc. 2) and the curation, tagging and categorizing of that data. namely an expert(s) that comb through this data and decides what works well together, finds correlations and creates this guided curriculum so to speak. what do you think? what other possible sources of info are they for contextus? what is the workflow for gathering & assembling it? is it even feasible? thanks, chris

Extensive thought went into Contextus’s features and requirements, which made it possible to illustrate its structure, hierarchy and a specific example of a typical use case through these diagrams. Creating a sitemap for an iPad app is quite different from creating one for a website, mainly because an app doesn’t have ‘pages’ in the traditional sense, but rather assorted views, filters and sorting. All of this helped inform how the wireframes would need to be designed and implemented. The following three task flow diagrams are in order from general needs to more specific tasks.

On Apr 18, 2012, at 6:07 PM, Christopher Cannon wrote: we had our initial dry-run of our thesis presentation today. mine went pretty well, and i’m feeling happier and more confident (that will probably disappear after my thesis defense next friday!). liz asked me a question that, due to lack of sleep, caught me by surprise and i wasn’t really able to answer right away: where is all of the data in Contextus coming from?

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Contextus sitemap

Home

Featured question

Direct search

Browse topics

Sign up

Login

About

Learn Tutorial video FAQs

Search results

Place

Time

Sort options

Alphabetical (default)

Map/globe finder

Subject

Scrubber

Direct input

Alphabetical

Category

Magnitude

globe /map view Location

Intro info

Map overlays

Contextual info

What

Save/export

Change/sort view

Print

Add to favorites

Compare

Where

When

What Change view

Where

When

What-if?

Post theory

Select criteria

Share

View theories

Save/export

Save/export

Reply to theories Subscribe

View favorites

global nav Home

Search

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Globe

Settings

Help

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Contextus userflow 1 General system flow

bookmark

what

featured question Question

Method of search

direct search

place

intro info

learning tools

when

filter/ drill-down results

where

browse topics

get contextual info

bookmark

what-if scenarios

hypothesize answers save info/maps

formulate answer

additional search

post/share answer

edit answer

save/ export/print

see othersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; answers

sort/ arrange maps

subjects select/view comparisons

time periods

compare

change data view

places

select criteria

reply/add to discussion forum

subscribe to discussion forum

share with FB/TW, etc.

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Contextus userflow 2 Directed userflow

User action Decision point Contextus display place subject time

Why is Haiti so much poorer than the Dominican Republic?

Launch Contextus

Is that the featured no question?

alphabetical (default), map finder alphabetical by category, magnitude scrubber, direct input

browse by topic select question

find basic info

globe zooms to location

contextual info box opens

type search query

yes

displays results by relevance

featured question direct search browse topics

select 2+: places subjects times

yes

make comparisons?

bookmark favorites

sort/arrange maps

select icon(s) for related map overlays

find related info?

adds visual cue for easy identification

group, hide, reorder

show opacity controls

filter / drill-down by what, when & where

no

displays visual and/or text comparisons

what-if scenario?

yes

select criteria

export data

no

answer yes question yourself?

post/share answer

view othersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; answers

opens forum menu

reply

no

visualizes relationships of data

PDF, CSV, HTML

save/print

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ask new question

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Contextus userflow 3 Specific userflow

What the user wants What the user does

Why is Haiti so much poorer than the Dominican Republic?

Launch Contextus

browse by place

browse by subject

browse by time

selects browse topics

alphabetical (default) selects Caribbean > Haiti

selects economy

leaves default view on (all time periods)

find more maps with relevant info

more contextual information

intro text basic stats

globe view zooms to location

browses the subject filter

taps arrows to reveal more info

reads information

swipes, pinches to zoom, pan, tilt view

confirms selection

find associated subjects in different ways

narrow time span

view associated maps & info

view associated maps & info

organize/sort maps & info

selects icon, drags over main map

selects icon, drags over main map changes opacity

tap & drag map to reorder, change opacity

visualize alternate scenarios

save progress

selects what-if feature

bookmarks current maps

change sorting view (alpha, category, magnitude)

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featured question direct search browse topics

adjusts time scrubber

asks new question

browses othersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; answers to similar question(s)

offer their own answers

taps on home icon

searches, selects various responses

enters answer forum, types answer; submits

searches for correlations in data

moves slider(s) to see effect on other axes of data

selection of place, subject, time criteria

Contextus process book


Visual identity

Its modern but warm, simple yet not too minimalist, bold but not overbearing... its Contextus. The icon is both an abstraction of the letter C and also an allusion to the data cube model of information organization.

Although the time spent working on Contextus’s logo and visual identity was longer than planned, it was the one part of my thesis process where the graphic designer in me could take over and practice what I’ve done professionally for the last 16 years. I started sketching ideas in my notebook, refined some of them in Illustrator and then began editing out the weaker iterations. After resisting the urge to arrange them in a formal presentation, a habit leftover from years of client work, I was left with half a dozen contenders to choose from. Visual identity often being a subjective practice, I ended up choosing the logo that I felt best represented Contextus. Its difficult to personify a product or service that involves geography in any representational way without resorting to clichés such as globes or compasses. This mark had to be strong and identifiable on its own as well as when paired with the word Contextus, and it had to be legible in a wide range of sizes, including a 72 pixel iPad icon. The final logo is a simplification of my discontinued data cube model and its translucent sides and overlapping colors re-contextualize the shape of the cube. Plus, its an abstraction of the letter C. To be able to track the letter spacing in tighter and visually streamline the word Contextus, the left side of the crossbars in the two T’s were deleted, creating a more integrated arrangements of letters.

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The color palette is fairly simple, consisting of mainly neutral colors (cream and warm grays) throughout the app’s screens, using accent colors sparingly. For the typography, I searched for a serif and sans-serif that would pair together nicely and complement each other. The fonts had to be available in both print and web formats. Proxima Nova1 is a bold humanistic font reminiscent of Avenir, one of my all-time favorite typefaces. It has a strong but friendly personality which distinguishes it from the more generic Helveticas of the world. Available in several weights and widths, it is great for many applications, from headlines to captions. Adelle2 is a slab-serif font with an editorial feel that has a nice balance of refinement and workhorse-like qualities. This would best be used for extended copy or pull quotes. With these basic design choices made, the time came to apply them to Contextus’s screens and page views.

1. <http://www.ms-studio.com/FontSales/proximanova.html>. 2. <http://www.type-together.com/Adelle>.

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Color palette Neutrals

Accents

RGB 253,249,241

RGB 240,235,230

RGB 200,192,185

RGB 140,132,125

RGB 85,77,70

RGB 131,242,237

RGB 0,189,184

RGB 255,41,69

RGB 126,28,0

Web FDF9F1

Web F0EBE6

Web C8C0B9

Web 8C847D

Web 554D46

Web 83F2ED

Web 00BDB8

Web FF2945

Web 7E1C00

CMYK 0,2,4,0

CMYK 4,5,7,0

CMYK 22,20,24,0

CMYK 46,42,47,7

CMYK 59,57,63,38

CMYK 40,0,15,0

CMYK 72,0,34,0

CMYK 0,94,70,0

CMYK 30,95,100,38

Typography Adelle

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz 1234567890 Proxima Nova

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz 1234567890

CONTEXTUS is an iPad app that gives people the tools

to discover information within the context of place and time,

visualizing knowledge through a geographic lens.

Proxima Nova Condensed

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz 1234567890 146

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Early logo explorations playing with icons that allude to geography, data cubes and organization. In the end, the concept of transparency triumphed, both as a stylistic choice and as a metaphor for the information presented within Contextus.

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The Contextus identity has some flexibility to be legible on light and dark colored backgrounds, as well as either stacked and centered or locked up on one line.

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The Contextus icon in the environment of the iPadâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s home screen. The icon works well by itself at this 72x72 pixel size even without the wordmark.

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What-if...?

A question I long found fascinating was that of “what-if?”, inspired by by the Marvel Comics series of the same name that I had read as a boy. These stories explored the road not taken, where characters and events occurred outside of the mainstream continuity of the Marvel Universe. Heroes became villains, well-known characters were killed off and sometimes they even changed the course of real-life events. This interest remained with me as an adult which pushed me to investigate counterfactual histories. Whether its described in similar terms such as alternative, virtual, speculative or hypothetical history, counterfactual history1 is compelling because it studies what could have been. What if the Chinese discovered the Americas and not the Europeans? What if Nazi Germany had won World War II? What if the Roman Empire never adopted Christianity? The list of potential alternative scenarios is endless.

Above: a typical 1970s issue of Marvel Comic’s What-if series, which got me thinking about alternative outcomes as early as my childhood. my.spill.com Right: The New York Times data visualization illustrating possible election outcomes, using HTML/CSS/ javascript code to read a text file of statistics. This became the model of one of the main features within Contextus. nytimes.com

I suspected that I wanted to apply this line of historiography towards Contextus. While it is educational to learn from had already happened, it is fun to learn about what could have happened. As applied to the story of Hispaniola which was central to both previous prototypes, what man-made decisions could have been made two-hundred years ago to put Haiti on a different course for a more successful present? When this idea was brought up with Shawn, he pointed out to me a great data visualization that the New York Times had made2 that attempts to predict the Republican candidates’ chances against President Obama based on shifting GDP growth and incumbent approval ratings. Instead of applying this sort of tool to see the future, I wanted to utilize it to analyze both the past and present. What-if (for lack of a better term) would be a feature where the user could manipulate data on a map seeing how it affects other related figures. It would be a exploration of correlation and causation; as one bar grows in value, another one either grows or shrinks in correspondingly. Examples shown for Hispaniola in theory could illustrate when birthrates fall, so does population density and unemployment, while life expectancy and GDP rise. Giving the user god-like powers of control and the gift of hindsight is reminiscent of such city-building video games as SimCity, where connections between a variety of factors are made plain to see.

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Shawn gave me a crash course in javascript to create this feature in a web prototype. With a rudimentary slider, numerical values change while corresponding bars grow or shrink over a map of Hispaniola with increasing or decreasing red circles. This was to be a placeholder for a more involved prototype aiming to manipulate sets of data and visualize them in a map-based environment. However, both theoretical and practical problems were soon encountered. How would these cause-and-effect calculations be made with any degree of accuracy—by myself or even from a team of “experts”? Running out of time, I had to abandon this experiment for testing participants and instead focus on how I would build my final prototype. Still an invaluable concept, the What-if feature would still remain in the final version of Contextus.

1. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterfactual_history>. 2. <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/02/15/magazine/what-are-thechances-for-republicans.html>.

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Below: my attempt at realizing What-if. Moving the slider changes the displayed values and the number of circles over the map, although at this point it is completely arbitrary. I wanted to demonstrate a few key concepts of geography: everything is connected, correlations often imply causation and seemingly disparate subjects can be related.

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Right: Sketches working out what sets of subjects and data could be visualized in What-if and how changes in their values affect other related or unrelated things, within the framework of my earlier Hispaniola prototype.

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Wireframes

Above left: preliminary sketches working out the structure and flow of all of the different screens within Contextus. Above right & following pages: markedup printouts of the wireframes based on feedback from Shawn Allen. Everything from touch interactions to language to simple typos were analyzed during the two rounds of wireframing.

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At this point, Contextus was starting to get tangible and feel more real. Based on the task flows that outline features and functions, I drafted quick sketches of each of the main features and views, then refined them into sequential wireframes. A considerable amount of time was spent creating these 35 pages of wireframes to make them as tight as possible, so that the application of the visual design would be a quicker, more streamlined process. Included were all of the various search views (featured questions, browse topics, direct search), maps with information layers and the answer forum. Shawn had valuable feedback in the logic behind some of these page transitions as well as the naming of buttons and features. We discussed the What-if feature at length and how it would make more sense mapping the lowest and highest values for each set of data to the lowest and highest values worldwide.

Attempts were made to bring these wireframes to life through TAP (Touch Application Prototypes1)—a rapid prototyping tool that uses Fireworks to animate transitions between screens and is able to support swipe gestures. This “smoke and mirrors” approach creates a mini-website from a set of wireframes with designated hotspots that can be viewed on an iPhone or iPad. Although TAP is good for deep, but generic mobile apps, it proved too awkward and time-consuming for me to continue using it. Keynote became my only viable alternative to animate transitions and critique the logic of page/view order (see page 168).

1. <http://unitid.nl/2011/03/touch-application-prototypes-tap-for-iphone-andipad-using-adobe-fireworks>.

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Visual design

Penguin’s State of the World series became a major influence on the design and content of Contextus. Data-dense thematic maps covering religion, war, human rights, health, demographics and a myriad of other topics are displayed clearly and compellingly.

Having finished stating the goals of thesis, asserting its pitch, devising use cases and features, drafting task flows, and conducting naming and branding exercises, the time had finally come to breathe life into Contextus. Because the wireframes, already tight and well-planned to begin with, were revised based on Shawn’s feedback, it was now just a matter of skinning them. Following my own visual identity and standards, each of the main functions and views of Contextus were illustrated: the featured question, browsing topics, the map & information views, What-if?, and the answer forum. The look and feel of the thematic maps took inspiration from mid-century infographics found in Herbert Bayer’s design for a 1952 World Atlas (see page 22) and more recently, Penguin’s State of the World Atlas series1. The Bayer Atlas has beautifully-rendered graphics and high level of aesthetics while the Penguin books are known for their density of data presented in map form, from world HIV rates to defense spending per capita. My aim was to make iconography a dominant element throughout Contextus, allowing a quick scan of the screen to instantly call attention to pertinent functions. A picture being worth a thousand words, icons compliment the text used to identify various subjects and places during in the search function. The maps themselves have the Contextus “brand” applied to them and are not derived from Google Maps or any other existing commercial mapping software or services.

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It was challenging designing for an iPad product on a laptop screen. What appeared fine on my MacBook Pro looked skewed or scaled slightly off on an iPad. Luckily, an incredibly useful prototyping tool LiveView was created for just this very situation. LiveView is an app for iPads and iPhones that allows those devices to connect to a laptop or desktop computer via WiFi to become a remote screen. As the various views of Contextus were being designed in Illustrator or InDesign on my laptop, I could see in real time how they rendered within their intended format. Seeing these designs displayed on the iPad allowed me to adjust the layout and fine-tune the colors with great accuracy.

1. Smith, Dan, and Isabelle Lewis. The Penguin State of the World Atlas. Completely rev. and updated 8th ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2008.

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With the LiveView app, through a common WiFi connection, I could share screens between my laptop and my iPad. This made it possible to see the design at the size and resolution for the device it was intended for and be able to make real-time changes.

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158

Launch screen

Direct search

Search results

Featured questions gallery

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Browsing featured questions

159


Browsing by subject and drilling down into sub-categories

160


Browsing by time period

Browsing by subject

Browsing by region/country

Sorting place view options

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162

Zoom to chosen region

Regional view, physical map

Country view, political map

Thematic toolbar

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Detailed thematic information with opacity scrubber

163


What-if...? feature

164


Finding related subjects

Drilling down into related subject category

Comparing chosen region to another

Launching the What-if...? feature

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166

Alternative thematic view

Detailed thematic information with opacity scrubber

Answer it feature

Answer forum

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Contributing to the Answer it forum

167


Adding (the illusion of) interaction

My choices seemed limited in which prototyping tool could accomplish this. I was well-versed in Flash, but since that doesn’t display in iOS and converting Flash to video was slow and cumbersome, that wasn’t an option. After Effects creates dazzling motion graphics, but I would have to spend precious time learning it. That approach not only couldn’t offer the ability for a person to utilize direct manipulation, but placed in a video of someone holding an iPad, it had a high possibility of appearing not real or fully integrated into its environment. Luckily, my classmate Sera reminded me that Apple Keynote was available for iOS: I could build it in Keynote on my laptop and display it in Keynote on my iPad. Using Keynote, real touch interactions would trigger animations, and filming a person using it on an iPad would retain all of the shadows, screen glare and reflections normally seen in reality, without having to fabricate those as well within After Effects.

Although not the most intuitive or streamlined method to create the illusion of a touch-screen app, Keynote was capable of replicating the look of many standard iOS transitions and animations.

With most of my assumptions tested and either proven correct or debunked, and with most of the high-level ideas of what to include in Contextus listed, the final form it would take needed thought and attention. Given the subjects it was covering and the questions it was attempting to answer in novel ways, Contextus was turning out to be a highly complex product. Learning Objective-C to program this app single-handedly simply was out of the question. I knew that I couldn’t actually make it, so I thought how to best fake it. Working in parallel with my design process, I began to experiment how I could effectively create the experience of using Contextus. Eventually there would be a story (a user journey, for lack of a better term) presented in a short video format. This video needed to depict actors interacting with this product in a variety of ways. With the format of Contextus settled at this point as being an iPad app, it became increasingly necessary to find a way to convincingly simulate an example of tablet software.

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Although a presentation tool meant to compete with Microsoft PowerPoint and not a prototyping tool per se, Keynote offered simplicity and familiarity. Working with it had benefits as well drawbacks. One advantage was the ability to paste elements directly from Photoshop or Illustrator. Since Keynote is an Apple product, many of the builds and transitions for animating UI objects felt related to the ones experienced on an iPad. However, since Keynote was never built for this type of production work, it was buggy, crashprone and slow. Without a layers palette or a time-based interface, it became difficult to organize multiple elements. It also couldn’t build hotspots for multiple buttons; a tap anywhere would advance to the next state regardless of position, duration or intensity. Nevertheless, it was a huge relief to be able to build a realistic facsimile1 where taps or swipes on an iPad screen control movement of menus or the zooming in on a map. It looked realistic because the interactions were actually happening in their intended environment, as opposed to filming a hand pretending to tap, pinch or swipe against a green screen and later incorporating screen animations through post-production trickery. All that was left at this point was the task of designing Contextus (visually, interactively, structurally) and creating a powerful narrative to showcase it.

1. See it in action: <https://vimeo.com/40892860>

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10

narrative form

“It’s easier to extrapolate from small to large than it is from large to small.” — david womack


Writing the narrative

I’m making connections and correlations between all sorts of data!

User’s point-of-view

Much like a typical sit-com or reality TV show, the narrative arc of someone’s experience using a product or service can be visualized on a chart. This depicts the introduction, a conflict or complication, a climax and a resolution.

tension

What’s this Contextus app? Its hard to learn by just reading I don’t know much about geography

Looks like geography is much more than just points on a map...

Contextus is giving me the tools to find answers for myself

Will I remember all of this info?

I’m putting my theories out there...

Yes! Next question...

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Even a great product or service can fail if it doesn’t have a great story supporting it. It can be the most innovative or useful product in the world, but it will accomplish nothing if no one is aware it even exists. The story is what humanizes the technology and communicates the goals of its creators to an audience. Contextus was designed, its functions specified, and its workflow outlined; my final prototype would be the story that sells the idea that this app could answer a variety of questions when viewed through the lens of geography.

How characters and plots are interpreted by the reader is often a matter of what kind of setting they are placed in. Being an iPad app, the setting in which Contextus exists is fluid, its purpose or function changing with the physical environment where it is being utilized (see page 110). As a second exercise, we were asked to concisely describe the setting in which our thesis would be used and what kind of impact environment has on the experience. Contextus has the benefit of being setting-agnostic:

The second half of the spring semester brought David Womack’s seven-week course Narrative and Interactivity which aimed to complement our theses through short assignments that create a story around our individual projects. David had us thinking about the characters, setting, objects and plot involved in what we were building. These exercises became good starting points in thinking about the final story that would be produced for the thesis festival. The first assignment was to illustrate a narrative arc of our thesis story, where we identify its introduction, conflict, climax and resolution, plotting each point along axes of time and tension. From the user’s point-of-view, the climax of Contextus happens when he or she realizes that they’re indeed making connections between various subjects and are able to find answers for themselves. Also charted is the meta-narrative of the thesis process itself, as seen through my eyes during the semester.

Contextus is an iPad app that helps people learn about subjects through a geographic lens. By its very nature, the iPad is location and context-agnostic. Contextus is here, there and everywhere. It can be used in the local café while reading the paper. It can be used leisurely while sitting on a park bench observing other people, or during a meeting at work to research a particular subject. It’s walking down the street looking at the NYC skyline wondering what was here fifty, one-hundred years ago. It’s in a classroom augmenting a lecture or just as easily reading a story in bed. Its watching the news on TV at home or on the bus during the morning commute. It’s all about geography and geography is everywhere. All of these settings affect the characteristics, tone and impact of using Contextus. It can be relaxing or purpose-driven. It can help alleviate boredom as well as satisfy the inquisitive. Learning from

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Paul Pangaro keeps asking me questions that I can’t answer!

Designer’s point-of-view

tension

Not sure where to begin

I love maps because they’re worth 1,000 words

A second, meta-narrative can be placed over the main storyline, illustrating the journey that I take as the designer of this thesis. It really was a mental and emotional roller coaster ride.

Thesis is rapidly becoming overwhelming

Building models of my UI with Legos®

• Making some progress...

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Take a break from thesis for one full day

Contextus can be an active learning experience, no matter the setting. Using Contextus can take you outside of your own world, whether to a different continent or just down the street. The information contained in Contextus can be as global as the history of human migration throughout the millennia or as local as what building used to stand at a particular intersection.

exported Saudi Wahhabi extremism, sectarian conflict and economic sanctions. Its about all of these things and more. “This shit is fucked up,” Guy thought as he nursed his beer, “I wonder why the Middle East always had so much trouble…” He reaches over to his messy coffee table and grabs his iPad, launching his favorite new app Contextus to try to find an answer to that very question.

One can spend time unwinding and dive deeply into Contextus or they can pick away at it a few minutes at a time. It can be used in a quiet setting to explore an earlier ongoing subject of interest just as it could to answer questions that arise on-the-go. Contextus is always available and usually appropriate.

Amy Li is a senior at the New School majoring in Urban Studies. After her morning class, she decides to wander over to the East Village to enjoy the crisp Spring weather. Amy often finds herself in this neighborhood, but usually with friends at night going to clubs or restaurants. Today, she notices the East Village in a whole new light as she passes by the John Varvatos boutique on the Bowery. “I can’t believe this used to be where CBGBs was,” she thinks to herself. “I always read about and heard from some of my teachers what a gritty, creative and interesting neighborhood this used to be in the 70s and 80s. How come it looks like a shopping mall now?” Sitting down in Tompkins Square Park, far away enough from the punks and homeless (but not so far as to look like she is avoiding them), Amy pulls her iPad out of her bag and starts sifting through the maps in Contextus.

Next, we needed to develop a character who uses our thesis product. I imagined four of them, all within different settings, each with distinct motivations. This was especially beneficial in establishing the foundation of my final video prototype, with multiple actors, locations and questions: Watching the evening news on CNN after long day at work, Guy Moretti slumps down on his couch while seeing disturbing footage of the recent violence in Syria. Guy feels like he cannot keep track of all the events taking place in the Middle East lately. Its about dictators backed by the U.S., the price of oil, refugees from Iraq,

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Its not everyday that a man meets his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. This thought made Pat McDaniels slightly nervous as he

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was buying ingredients for tonight’s big home-cooked dinner with Trina Pierre-Louis and her mom and dad. Trina and her family are from Haiti and immigrated to Miami when she was twelve. Pat was always interested in travel and other cultures, but never had any interest in visiting Haiti, perhaps because of all the bad press that unfortunate nation gets. Not wanting to look ignorant or unable to hold an intelligent conversation, Pat sat down on a park bench and began swiping his way through history in Contextus. Yael Feldman is deeply engrossed with her iPad. During her morning commute, she starts to plan for her upcoming business trip to Germany. Will the debt crisis in Greece affect the exchange rate? What about her company’s interests in the region? Even more importantly, how did the European Union get itself into this situation? As she wonders if she should bring her daughter along for the trip, Yael browses related topics in Contextus, getting a sense of how politics, history and economics are intertwined. She starts to see not only what already happened, but what could happen in the future.

Finally, one last assignment describing in more detail about one particular character’s experience interacting with Contextus. Revisiting one of the characters above, we find that he has a question, a motivation to answer it, and a plan to use Contextus, and he finds the answer himself and proudly shares his theories. Contextus helps the protagonist to satisfy his curiosity and establishes its usefulness in a simple story... After he bought the ingredients for tonight’s dinner he is cooking for his girlfriend and her parents, Pat McDaniels relaxes on a park bench, wondering what he’ll talk about with them. Trina and her parents are originally from Haiti, a country he knows is quite poor but knows little else about. Eager to impress them and not put his foot in his mouth, he wants to learn more about Haiti and hopefully have an intelligent conversation this evening. Wikipedia is just a long list of facts and figures, he thinks, if I read about Haiti’s history through that, I’ll probably just fall asleep. I heard about this app called Contextus that helps teach visually through maps. Pat pulls out his iPad from his backpack and downloads and opens Contextus.

tonight… I’m going back to Brooklyn, he thinks. The first thing Pat notices is a big, bold featured question of the day. Its about why did the Europeans and not the Chinese discover the Americas. He finds that an interesting question, but not for the task at hand, so he bookmarks it for a later reading. As he starts browsing through place, time and subjects, Pat notices how information is organized and classified—economics, politics and history are linked to each other and viewing a timeline of Haiti as a histogram shows a spike in information around 1500, 1800 and 2000. With his search criteria of Haiti (place), economy (subject) and 1700–present (time period) selected, Pat is presented with a series of overlaying thematic maps in which he can change the opacity, rearrange their order and get more contextual information for each. He begins to see the relationships between natural geography and its effects on a country’s history as well as manmade decisions. Sifting through rainfall, wind pattern, elevation and topography maps, Pat can better understand how Hispaniola’s bisecting mountain range prevented much rain from reaching the Haitian side of the island, thereby reducing arable land and crop diversity. Their history of importing vast amounts of slaves for plantations and a subsequent slave rebellion which banned foreign investment and land ownership had an equally profound effect on the nation’ development. Pat spots a feature simply called “What if?”. Intrigued, he taps on it and is taken to another map where moving a slider for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Haiti’s current state of 0.2% to 5%, causes graphics on the map to reflect that change. Bars representing infrastructure, GDP, unemployment rate, poverty rate and life expectancy move up or down in relation to the FDI’s value. I had no idea how connected these things are, Pat thinks, the correlation between foreign economic investment and a person’s life expectancy surprises me. Eager to share his theories, he types his responses in the answer forum as he browses through other people’s thoughts on the subject. I get it now, Pat believes, the answers are never that simple and can be quite subjective, but maps are good at showing a ton of complicated information in an uncomplicated way. Armed with knowledge for conversation, Pat heads home for dinner with his possible future in-laws.

He is a little hesitant at first glance. Maps are great for getting directions for traveling somewhere, but I’m not going to Haiti

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Video: the tangible aspect of Contextus

Inspiration While gathering ideas for my own final prototype, I found and bookmarked nine product reveal videos as examples of inspiration. Some were chosen because of their storytelling skills, others for their aesthetic style. While a few directly showed the product or service and how exactly it could be used, most avoided showing the product altogether and instead focused on establishing a mood. What all of these videos had in common was the ability to tell a story in just a few minutes—something that was of utmost importance for the seven minutes we had to present our thesis.

Nine product reveal videos that would end up inspiring the development of my own story presentation for Contextus. Some directly showed the product in use, while others vaguely alluded to it.

Duet www.duet.me Depicts multiple characters and settings and clever transitions through smart editing. Text at the end reenforces the story and the possibilities.

Clear www.realmacsoftware.com/clear/ Uses closeups to show the product in action, showing off its unique UI.

Copenhagen Interaction Design Program www.vimeo.com/32322972 Akin to opening film titles with in situ typography, where each bit of information is displayed in a different physical context and format.

Embark www.letsembark.com Nice integration of screens and UI within story that follows a single character throughout his journey.

Chrome www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJx4IQk3oxo Great use of text only that implies what this product can do.

Glif www.vimeo.com/15493382 Rockin’ soundtrack with simple editing and bold titles illustrating this physical product’s many uses.

Facebook Timeline www.facebook.com/about/timeline The emotional journey of one man’s life story as seen through this product feature.

Paper www.vimeo.com/37254322 A first-person perspective of an individual spending their day using this product in different environments.

Skillshare www.vimeo.com/34853044 Ties together an individual’s life story through fun transitions and documentarystyle narration.

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Video shoot checklist Rival Schools United by Fate, whose instrumental song “Hooligans for Life” was not only the soundtrack to my final video, but determined the narrative structure of my story as well.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

 on’t forget to take iPad out of slipcase d bring newspaper and glass or mug or to-go drink as a prop use magnifying feature to make sure shot is in focus shoot a few seconds before & after action takes place establishing shots: picture where question will be placed person walking towards / away from camera: picture where question will be placed walking or standing perpendicular to camera: picture where question will be placed person taking iPad out of bag / putting iPad away person reaching for drink; drinking wide (1–3 feet away) shot of every interaction with Contextus closeup (< 1 foot away) shot of every interaction wider (4–10 feet away) shot of person using iPad from all angles 1st-person view of hands holding / using iPad; blurred person walks by in the background low-angle view of person walking away camera tilts up toward sky for closing shot camera changes focus from foreground to background (vice-versa) low-angle view of person sitting holding iPad top-down view of person using iPad closeup of person’s eyes: thinking, then “eureka” moment closeup of person’s mouth making subtle expressions medium shot of person sitting, other person walks by in foreground and completely blocks view of the subject some medium shots obey rule of thirds; leave empty, un-busy area of background for question or icon pop-up

Soundtrack Moving forward, there were two things I knew that did not belong in my video: narration or generic ambient music. There are far too many videos in existence ruined by voicework stating the obvious or sounding more like a tutorial or a commercial than necessary. Several thesis videos from the previous year were comprised of an actor looking directly into the camera telling the audience why this is a great product—and I knew that for me this was an approach to be avoided if at all possible. Why say what this product can do when

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you can show it? The decision was made that images and titles alone would tell the story of Contextus. From a practical perspective, I need not be concerned about the difficulties of recording voices while shooting video outside. One common thread most product reveal videos have, whether professional or student work, is a soundtrack of light electronica or whimsical xylophone tones. While fine for most purposes, I wanted music that stood out, had more substance and weight… something a bit faster and more aggressive. After combing through my music library, I came across a song that instantly spoke to me: Rival School’s “Hooligans for Life”. That song had the benefit of being instrumental, with a distinct verse and chorus structure ascending into a musical climax. Clocking in at 2:28, it was the perfect length for my video and would fit nicely within the limitations of our thesis presentation. Listening to it, there are perfect sections of the song in which to introduce the characters, follow their actions, showcase their “a-ha!” moment, and display closing text and credits. The singer/guitarist/songwriter behind Rival Schools was Walter Schreifels—a musician whose various bands I had followed as a fan for 25 years. Although I didn’t need legal permission from their record label to use this song for purely academic purposes, since I held him in such high regard, I sought Walter’s moral approval. Through a mutual friend, I emailed Walter, explained the situation and made my case. Soon after, I got his succinct response: Hey Chris, You have my blessing to use the song... great choice by the way ;) Best, Walter

The soundtrack ended up being chosen before the video was shot and largely influenced the story and editing, instead of the other way around. In most videos of this nature, music is the last decision to be made; for Contextus, the soundtrack was the defining factor that influenced everything else. With the music chosen, now the story, setting, characters and narrative arc became clear. Best of all, I knew this video would have to be exactly two minutes and twenty-eight seconds, which made storyboarding, shooting and editing all that much simpler.

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Sketches of both potential locations to shoot this final video as well as questions to display during the storyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s outro. The plan was to show these various questions in rapid-fire succession to give the viewer an idea of the kinds of subjects that Contextus could help answer.

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Final video For the final video, I felt the most effective way to demonstrate what Contextus is and how it works was to portray four different people, in four different locations, each with a different question. Since I only had time to schedule a few hours to film each character over the course of five days, and reserved an additional two days for editing, this would be an extremely tight deadline that required detailed planning. As I scouted locations near home and school, and began recruiting my four actors, intensive storyboarding was taking place. The overall narrative arc as well as specific camera angles were being thought out—a balance of wide shots to establish setting, mid-shots to introduce the characters, and closeups showing Contextus in use. I listed the best questions pertaining to geography, four to frame each of the character’s motivations in the beginning, and another twenty to end the story with. As time was limited and there was no room for mistakes or omissions, I made a checklist for the video shoot specifying every angle, action and composition that I wanted to capture and brought it along as a reminder. Prior to shooting, four different prototypes had to be designed and built in Keynote then imported onto my iPad. Each prototype showed a different location (Haiti, New York City, South Sudan and China) and focused on one unique feature of using Contextus (featured questions, browsing subjects, thematic map overlays and the answer forum). All of the actors (my wife, my uncle and two classmates) had to be instructed on how to use the prototype and how to fake certain actions such as swiping and pinching that Keynote couldn’t support.

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The video starts by introducing each character in their setting, with titles showing the geographic questions on their minds. They begin using Contextus, sorting through questions, finding related subjects, manipulating maps and exploring various features. The pace of their actions and the editing increases as the song’s crescendo builds until the music drops suddenly and the screen goes black for a second. As the music resumes, a closeup of one actor’s eyes shows that moment of understanding and satisfaction he now has. The song’s ending displays in quick succession titles of all the other possible questions that Contextus could help answer. No post-production After Effects work was necessary for either the closeups of the screens or the titles, as the most straight-forward approach proved to be the most suitable and effective one. Screen glare, shadows and reflections captured in the video made Contextus seem all the more real.

Above and opposite: Storyboard sketches imagining the sequence of actors, locations and actions taking place in the 2:28 minute-long video.

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The final version of this video prototype can be seen on the Contetus website: www.getcontext.us

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Takeaway cards

These takeaway cards produced for the thesis festival were the flow to the stock of the Contextus app.

Another part of our thesis festival that needed to be considered was our individual installations, the tangible aspect of our presentation that allowed the festival audience to engage with and experience our thesis concept in a deeper way. Included on my table was an iMac with headphones playing the Contextus video, the stack of acetate sheets from the first prototype, the Keynote prototype on an iPad and several sets of takeaway cards. Each of the eight cards showed an outline map of a different country along

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with a related fun fact and the Contextus url. The tone was kept slightly mysterious as the countries shown on the cards were never named, hopefully prompting further investigation on the part of the viewer. These takeaway cards represented one-half of the stock and flow concept1â&#x20AC;&#x201D;the cards being the ephemeral advertisement to the durable resource of the Contextus app. 1. <http://snarkmarket.com/2010/4890>.

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Collect them all: the intention behind the design of these cards was to hint at geography. By deliberately not providing the answer, I hoped to generate interest in learning about Contextus and motivate people to find answers for themselves.

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Originally got its name from the nut, not the other way around.

Invented the 365 day calendar as well as the 24-hour division of a day.

www.getcontext.us

www.getcontext.us

Only country to have voluntarily abandoned its nuclear weapons program.

Banned the pigtail in 1911 as it was seen as a symbol of feudalism.

Boys have different last names from their sisters as well as their parents.

www.getcontext.us

www.getcontext.us

www.getcontext.us

Sheep outnumber people 10 to 1.

With more than 11 million people overseas, it has the largest diaspora network in the world.

Never invaded any other country in its last 10,000 years of history.

www.getcontext.us

www.getcontext.us

www.getcontext.us

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Final presentation

May 12, 2012: the day our thesis came to an abrupt end. My seven-minute presentation and subsequent group discussion with classmates Dave Bellona and Sera Koo, moderated by IxD alum Colleen Miller.

Preparing for the final thesis festival presentation, I assembled all of the points that needed to be stated. It was important to open on a personal note, connecting the cartographic wastepaper basket from my childhood with my current interest in geography. Facts and figures from recent surveys that highlight the current state of geographic illiteracy were mentioned and the concept of America’s increasing isolation was illustrated visually by showing a globe devoid of all countries except the United States. The three fundamental points of my thesis were then presented showing that the field of geography is much more than just maps and state capitals: • Geography is a lot more than just maps • Maps are means, not an end • Everything is contextual; nothing exists in a vacuum

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Towards the middle of the presentation the Contextus video was introduced followed by an explanation of each of the unique features in Contextus and benefits of using it: • Gain insight, not just facts • Learn through the medium, not just the message • Geography is subjective I then closed my presentation by declaring my intention to bridge the functionality of Wikipedia and Google Maps in an effort to broaden horizons and change perspectives. And there it was: a year’s worth of work condensed down to just seven minutes.

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Hello everyone. I’m Chris and I’d like to talk a little bit about geography.

I personally have loved maps and geography as long as I can remember. The minute details a map holds, and the exotic locations explored by adventurers always fascinated me as a kid. This is actually a wastepaper basket that my parents got for me when I was around seven years old and its still by my desk today. But I realize that not everyone shares my interest or passion for maps or geography.

We all use maps in our cars and phones to avoid getting lost. But if you had to find a country such as Iraq on a map like this one, could you? If you can’t, don’t feel bad because you’re not alone. Despite being almost constantly in the news for the last 10 years, 63% of young American adults can’t find Iraq on a world map. Nine out of ten can’t find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.

In fact, according to a National Geographic study, 50% of young American adults can’t locate New York City on a U.S. map. Even more troubling, a quarter of all Dallas high school students can’t name the country that borders us to the south.

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To many of us, the world may very well look like this. And this leaves us unprepared for an increasingly competitive, interconnected and global future. If we don’t know where prominent countries are located, what else don’t we know about them? About their people or culture or our relationship with them?

Maybe this is because many of us grew up thinking that geography is merely points on a map where we ended up memorizing state capitals for memorization’s sake.

I believe that geography has been too narrowly defined. I see it as a way of connecting people to places or even people to each other (kind of like what we do here as interaction designers). Geography shows that events, whether natural or man-made, have some context to the world around them.

I think geography is really about asking this.

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Urban planning

Cartography

Demographics

Economics

Ethnography

Globalization

History

Linguistics

Meteorology

Oceanography

Statistics

Spatial analysis

Politics

Transportation

Anthropology

I want to show that geography is much more than just points on a map. Geography is history, its politics, its economics, its dozens of other interconnected fields of study. Maps are the visual language of geography, able to express complex ideas at a glance.

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Text is a good medium for absorbing other’s thoughts. But maps are great for explaining spatial relationships that just can’t be easily conveyed with just text or numbers. How can we better integrate the two?

So that’s why i created Contextus. Contextus will give people the tools to see these connections and find answers to their questions for themselves, which makes for a more active, engaging and fun learning experience.

In my work developing Contextus, I wanted to create a new way of finding information, one that is geo-spatial, allowing us to search for answers to our questions through the context of what I consider to be the three basic elements of geography: subject, place and time. I want to show that maps aren’t just for getting directions from point A to point B; they give us directions between what, where and when, showing all the connections and relationships between them.

Based on my research, people tend to trust maps. This makes them a perfect medium not only in searching for information, but in illustrating that disparate subjects seemingly unrelated to geography can lend themselves to be better represented and explained on a map. If you’re more of a visual learner like me, its great for retaining knowledge.

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Now I’d like to show you a little preview of Contextus... [video plays]

I’d like to explain a bit more of three unique features that went into the making of this.

Contextus gives the user the tools to find answers for themselves, and doesn’t just give them the answer. This sort of guided learning offers a puzzle waiting to be solved and a sense of accomplishment when it is.

What makes Contextus different is that it provides more insight to an answer rather than just showing hard facts.

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There are multiple ways of searching for and displaying information. By seeing how subject, place and time are organized and classified, the user is learning while searching for what they want to learn about, even if they don’t realize it... they’re learning through the medium, not just the message.

The “What-if?” feature that allows people to gather different data and see alternative outcomes or possible futures in a situation. What-if helps visualize the connections and correlations between events and statistics as they move through history.

Most importantly, I’ve come to realize that geography is a soft science, subjective and open to interpretation. Why fight that and try to contain geography inside a narrow view? I think we should celebrate it and allow a forum for people to post their answers or theories, browse other people’s answers and reply to them.

Moving forward with Contextus, I plan to bridge the gap between the functionality of Google Maps with the nearly limitless information that can be found on Wikipedia or Quora. By doing so, hopefully we can change our perspectives and broaden our horizons, becoming more informed and better engaged citizens of this world.

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If a picture is worth 1,000 words, I believe a map is worth a million. Thank you.

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References

Bibliography Abrams, Janet, and Peter Hall. Else/where: mapping new cartographies of networks and territories. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Design Institute :, 2006. Antonelli, Paola. Talk to me: design and communication between people and objects. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2011. Bergreen, Laurence. Over the edge of the world: Magellan’s terrifying circumnavigation of the globe. New York: Morrow, 2003. Blij, Harm J.. Why geography matters: three challenges facing America : climate change, the rise of China, and global terrorism. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2005. Blij, Harm J.. The power of place: geography, destiny, and globalization’s rough landscape. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Diamond, Jared M.. Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998. Diamond, Jared M.. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Viking, 2005. Dikkers, Scott. Our dumb world: the Onion's atlas of the planet Earth, seventy-third edition. New York: Little Brown & Co., 2007. Greenfield, Adam. Everyware: the dawning age of ubiquitous computing. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2006. Jacobs, Frank. Strange maps: an atlas of cartographic curiosities. New York: Viking Studio, 2009. Jennings, Ken. Maphead: charting the wide, weird world of geography wonks. New York: Scribner, 2011. Lanier, Jaron. You are not a gadget: a manifesto. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything. New York: William Morrow, 2005. Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal principles of design. Gloucester, Mass.: Rockport, 2003. McCullough, Malcolm. Digital ground: architecture, pervasive computing, and environmental knowing. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004. McGrath, Brian. Transparent cities: a user’s guide. New York, NY: Sites/Lumen Books, 1994. Monmonier, Mark S.. How to lie with maps. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. Monmonier, Mark S.. No dig, no fly, no go: how maps restrict and control. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010. Rosenberg, Daniel, and Anthony Grafton. Cartographies of time. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. Smith, Dan, and Isabelle Lewis. The Penguin state of the world atlas. Completely rev. and updated 8th ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2008. Sterling, Bruce. Shaping things. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005. Stewart, Jon. Earth (the book): a visitor's guide to the human race. New York, N.Y.: Grand Central, 2010. Thompson, Nato, Jeffrey Kastner, and Trevor Paglen. Experimental geography. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Melville House ;, 2008.

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Tufte, Edward R.. The visual display of quantitative information.: Cheshire, Conn. Graphics Press, 1983. Tufte, Edward R.. Envisioning information. Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press, 1990. Tufte, Edward R.. Visual explanations: images and quantities, evidence and narrative. Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press, 1997. Tufte, Edward R.. Beautiful evidence. Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press, 2006. Turabian, Kate L.. A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations: Chicago style for students and researchers. 7th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Turchi, Peter. Maps of the imagination: the writer as cartographer. San Antonio, Tex.: Trinity University Press, 2004. Walter, Aarron, and Jared M. Spool. Designing for emotion. New York, N.Y.: A Book Apart/Jeffrey Zeldman, 2011. Weatherford, J. McIver. Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world. New York: Crown, 2004. Wood, Denis, and Ira Glass. Everything sings: maps for a narrative atlas. Los Angeles, Calif.: Siglio, 2010. Wood, Denis, John Fels, and John Krygier. Rethinking the power of maps. New York: Guilford Press, 2010. Wu, Tim. The master switch: the rise and fall of information empires. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Zaïane, Osmar R.. “Principles of Knowledge Discovery in Databases.” University of Alberta, Department of Computing Science CMPUT690 (1999).

Blog The majority of the text in this process book was adapted or rewritten from my weekly thesis blog posts: http://theorypluspractice.tumblr.com


Websites All sites were accessible as of December 12, 2012. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/author/frank-jacobs http://irrland.sonntagskunst.de http://www.onformative.com http://derekwatkins.wordpress.com http://candychang.com http://flowingdata.com http://whatwasthere.com http://bigthink.com/blogs/strange-maps http://www.brainpickings.org http://lracrisistracker.theresolve.org http://moritz.stefaner.eu/projects/map your moves http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer http://www.ibm.com/ibm100/us/en/thinkexhibit http://www.elasticspace.com/2005/11/graphic-language-for-touch http://www.history.com/shows/how-the-states-got-their-shapes http://www.microsoft.com/office/vision http://www.disneyresearch.com/research/projects/hci_sidebyside_drp.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychogeography http://www.telegeography.com/telecom-resources/map-gallery http://www.spatialinformationdesignlab.org/projects.php?id=16 http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/11/ethan-zuckerman-wants-you-to-eat-yournews-vegetables-or-at-least-have-better-information http://www.gapminder.org/videos/the-joy-of-stats http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/main2010/2011467.asp http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2012/01/the_best_american_wall_ map_david_imus_the_essential_geography_of_the_united_states_of_ america_.single.html http://google-latlong.blogspot.com http://www.core77.com/blog/case_study/google_maps_designing_the_modern_ atlas_21486.asp http://www.googlemapsmania.blogspot.com http://maps.nypl.org/warper http://maps3d.svc.nokia.com/webgl http://www.baconsrebellion.com/oldsite/Wonks_Risse_geographic_illiteracy.php http://www.urbanmapping.com/content/demo-gallery http://helsinki.urbanflow.io http://spatialanalysis.co.uk http://www.mondowindow.com http://www.wikimapia.org http://www.historypin.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloomâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s_Taxonomy http://www.crwr.utexas.edu/gis/gishydro08/SpaceAndTime/WRAP.htm

http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/americas.html http://www.miraikan.jst.go.jp/en/sp/tsunagari/geocosmos.html http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679427/beautiful-visualizations-of-americas-winds http://welikia.org/download/curriculum http://worrydream.com/Tangle http://www.chronozoomproject.org http://atlas.media.mit.edu http://www.google.com/earth/outreach/index.html http://www.google.com/publicdata/directory http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17693816 http://fuckyeahcartography.tumblr.com http://www.ipadinschools.com http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1068259.html http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/05/0502_060502_geography.html http://apandre.wordpress.com/data/datacloud/datacube

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Thank you

To Yang... I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have done this without your support and encouragement. It was all worth it!

Sarah Adams Shawn Allen Boris Anthony Clint Beharry David Bellona Frank Chimero Tony Chu Rosemary Daley

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Liz Danzico Jess Elder Chloe Gottlieb Nat Howard Matt Knudsen Sera Koo Gene Lu Leah Meisterlin

Erin Moore Paul Pangaro Anthony Pappalardo Amit Pitaru Prachi Pundeer Walter Schreifels Allison Shaw Cooper Smith

Ian White Peter Wienskowski David Womack Michael Yap Tina Ye Catherine Young


Motivational propaganda to kickstart the thesis process. Found by Cooper Smith

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www.getcontext.us

Contextus process book  

Process book for the thesis work of Christopher Cannon, MFA in Interaction Design, School of Visual Arts, class of 2012.