Map design

Maps: in brief
Good maps provide a big boost to a wayfinding system. Maps that are custom-designed for a site have many advantages over Google maps; they allow visitors to understand the organization of a site, identify preferred routes, and find amenities. They can highlight special features, address specific navigation challenges and support consistency in signage, print and digital applications. And they add a dose of unique character and brand that a generic online map cannot.

CG has deep experience developing maps that provide this kind of guidance. Each solution is thoughtfully customized based on the wayfinding plan and the client’s physical setting. Because ongoing accuracy is crucial, we also develop a maintenance strategy based on the capabilities of client staff.

Maps reinforce the wayfinding strategy
In a complex environment, maps must reinforce the wayfinding strategy by highlighting key routes, preferred points of entry, visitor parking and helpful landmarks. Maps must also exactly match the nomenclature used on signage, online directions and printed materials. This requires coordination among multiple parties!  Many visitors view online maps to orient themselves before arriving, so seeing different terminology on signs leaves visitors confused, with a poor first impression.

It can be difficult for some visitors to remember information they saw on a map; they fare best when they can reference a “walk around” map on their phone or a paper map (downloaded as a pdf or obtained on-site).

Increasing map usefulness 
Most sites have many significant destinations, many of which cannot fit on the map without compromising its clarity. In those cases map signs can include a directory with a key to the locations. Helpful web addresses, phone numbers and links to interactive tools such as parking locations are other useful additions. These informational tools and visual references are as helpful for staff, when giving directions, as they are for visitors.

Human factors in map design
Successful maps are carefully constructed with select detail to enhance useful routes and features. Because researchers have found that many people have problems understanding maps, CG is careful to consider human factors when determining their content, format, orientation and design. Careful use of contrast, colors, symbols and legends adds to their legibility without information overload. Map design also accounts for how maps will be displayed and reproduced so that maps are readable night and day at small and large sizes, displayed physically or on-screen.

Design principles hold true for digital maps
Web-based maps must be created and managed as well, and can benefit from visual and cognitive lessons learned from static maps. One approach is to augment or “tag” an online Google map with important facilities, amenities and building footprints increases the utility for visitors and residents; these enhancements can be simple or highly detailed.

Interactive maps
Using the standard Google map, an online interactive map can be developed that allows users to find a long list of amenities or destination. Viewers can select from a checklist of amenities and then turn them on and off.

User testing
All map designs require testing of content and legibility at a variety of sizes. For map signs viewing full-size prints in the field is ideal. Online maps should be tested on varying screen sizes, especially phones. Color choices for colorblind users can be previewed in the schematic design phase. Simplified artwork can be used to manufacture tactile maps for visually impaired readers, with modified content for those who use Braille.