Web Maps and Design: from Visualization to Spatial Analytics

Digital Cartography

Web maps are a great tool for improving access to data. However, without proper curation they can easily be a step away from the simplification in presentation that a static “slice of time” map provides, and actually work against the goal of promoting effective designs and decision making. Thus this is the ultimate challenge to web mapping professionals:

How can we design web maps that allow access to data and results of analyses, in a way that maintains the capacity to convey and present information so that it is clearly and easily understood in the way that static maps visualize a very specific concept.

That is to say, how do we make interactive maps that are easy to use, so that their functions are designed to clearly show the user what needs to be conveyed without being clouded by extraneous information and tools? The answer lies in the sharing of code and interface tools so that the industry evolves and builds on itself to allow specific map platforms to have tools and features that are specific to the concepts they are conveying. One interactive map at a time.

The solution also lies in the adoption by industries of integrating analysis and design so that each can work side by side to improve the efficiency of how we sustain our world. This evolution is being seen directly in the architect-led Design-Build-Operate (DBO) lifecycle of construction, and in the GIS world ESRI has recently released a product called Geodesign that works toward this goal as well. Using interactive web maps as an arena for data sharing in the design process allows a real-time interactive setting for designers and data analysts to work together. As this working environment becomes more commonplace, the clarity in effective web mapping will also evolve distinct methods of interacting to design and create interactive platforms for presentation and visualization.

Joe Francica gives a nod to this challenge in his article (including a nice Janine Benyus biomimicry example) on the 2014 Geodesign Summit, “I see confusion in the marketplace with so many labels that are attached to methods that visualize information and conduct geospatial projects.” Something that will certainly become more clear as more and more projects find success with this methodology.

ESRI’s Geodesign Web Map Platform to Facilitate Planning and Design

In Jack Dangermond’s presentation of ESRI’s Geodesign product, he discusses what is at the heart of web mapping and how its difference from traditional GIS work will be the platform for planning and design processes in the future.

Thinking of GIS as a platform involves a transformation in the understanding of GIS as a tool, wherein data is collected and normalized into a database, to GIS as an environment wherein dynamically linked objects can interact. Traditionally, normalizing data creates static maps that portray the world as slices of time expressing selected features. GIS as a platform involves using it as a place where data can be dynamically integrated to provide an arena for frequently updated and readily shared data. To be clear, this does not mean that data doesn’t need to be cleaned and massaged in order to be transformed into useful outputs – database normalization is different from data normalization. Instead this is a focus on how making cleaned data more interactive changes the nature of the process.

“What is a web map?” asks Dangermond. It is not just a map that is on the web. Instead, in the true definition of GeoVisualization, it is a view of data or services that are “brought together and dynamically integrated and analyzed.”

GIS as a tool for visualization and mapping is a valuable stage in the evolution of spatial analytics. For people working in the planning and design fields, this dynamic interchange is improving the accessibility of data and analyses that are essential to the design and planning processes.

This is the inspiration for ESRI’s Geodesign product. As ESRI describes, it “provides a design framework and supporting technology for professionals to leverage geographic information, resulting in designs that more closely follow natural systems.” This is a very cool tool that, as a platform, allows designers and data analysts to collaboratively work on data as the process evolves, as opposed to working in silos. “In the past it was about doing studies to understand the cost/benefit analyses and then doing the system designs to bring it into institutions. This is very different culture entirely…that not only supports the sharing more effectively and more rapidly but becomes the platform for realizing design.”  Ultimately, bringing to the forefront this concept of the use of maps to improve the world.


Margaret Spyker

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