University Web Developers

University Web Developers

About a year ago, we were working on a new Web site for the College of Business, and they wanted a new campus map, because they hate the clunky old cartoon map of our campus.

The whole thing became a huge political football, and I even got screamed at in a public meeting by one of our "old guard" who was offended that I didn't like the cartoon map...

Anyway, COB dropped the campus map idea and went for a simple regional map instead (which I designed and built). Of course, it isn't accessible and it's no great shakes, but they liked it.

Anyway, as part of the process I posted some research reviewing campus maps in my blog. No offense intended if one of the one's I didn't like is yours. :-)

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Hey Tony! I thought I would chime-in on this thread...since I've basically been living, breathing, eating and sleeping "campus maps" for most of the past 14 years (8 years as a private consultant - www.mapformation.com). :-)

When looking at your criteria of what you like in a campus map:

* Quick response (many maps were slow or had to load a separate page when you zoomed in)
* Detailed zoom control with easy to use controller with feedback (e.g., Google Maps)
* "Grab and pan" control for panning map (like Google Maps)
* Switchable custom data layers to show/hide information
* Attractively designed maps (many maps were crude or used ugly colors)
* Clear to read and clearly labeled maps (many were difficult to read)
* Photos of buildings (seeing a square on a map doesn't help you recognize the building on the ground)

...I noticed that you were essentially talking about on-screen solutions. In my experience, a REALLY good campus map is not only a design that looks good and is clear/easy to understand on-screen, but will also translate over into print or signage mediums as well. I love electronic maps as much as probably anybody you'll come across...but if somebody cannot hit "print" and take a good copy of that map with them, it is effectively doing a disservice to one's constituents, in my opinion. Having one map for print, one map for the web, ANOTHER map for directional kiosks, etc. is confusion and constituent frustration waiting to happen...at least in my experience, and is much, MUCH more time-consuming and/or costly to try and maintain.

One thing I have also learned in 14+ years of map design is that there are two types of people in the world related to wayfinding and navigation:

Type A: Prefer and depend upon more traditional cartographic traditions, such as planemetric designs (2D or "straight-down" views), physical distance, "North," street names, etc.

Type B: Navigate using visual landmarks (building facades, unique architecture, adjacent to notable landmarks), with a much lower reliance upon "traditional" navigational resources.

I've casually surveyed hundreds of individuals on this very subject....and what I've found is that the break-down of Type A and Type B individuals is almost 50/50. Type A individuals tend to more-often be men, left-brained and (in a campus setting) employed within Facilities Management and Public Safety departments. Type B individuals tend to more-often be women, right-brained (creatives) and in a campus setting, tend to be found in Admissions and Public Relations departments.

The key is user-centered design. If you're a "Type A," you have to try and remember that as many as half of your constituents will need/want visual breadcrumbs (photos or drawn building facades) in order to get a feel for where they are in space. Many institutions make the mistake, however, of only serving the portion of the population who happen to mirror the "Type" that is common within the department/individual(s) who control that institution's official maps.

Some other items I might add to your list of what makes a good/better map:

- Significant attention being paid to issues of contrast (color-blindness) within the design elements.
- Reducing the quantity of items that require a key to explain what that iconography is referring to
- Avoiding the use of campus lingo/jargon at all costs...remembering that a vast majority of the users of your map designs will be unfamiliar with your institution.
- Maps that look good and work well as .pdf output at 8.5x11" if at all possible.
- MAPS THAT ARE CURRENT! Sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many severely-outdated maps are still floating around the internet as "official" institutional maps.

Sorry for the long post! This one obviously hits VERY close to home...although none of our clients didn't make either your "love" or "hate" lists...from what I could see. :-)
Hi Tony and Hi Derek, I'd be interested in your assessment of our campus map. Don't pull punches. I didn't make it. :-)

http://map.emory.edu

--john
Hi John! Great to see you in here.

Related to http://map.emory.edu , there are a few quick/easy things right off the bat that could probably make that interface a LOT better:

1. Image tiles. It appears as though 24-bit .jpg image tiles are being used as the "backbone" of the GUI, even though the planemetric-styled map with "flat" colors would easily lend itself well to 6-bit or possibly even 5-bit .png. Cutting out all of those unnecessary colors would likely have a dramatic effect on the file size of each tile...making the entire interface load/display faster while consuming less bandwidth.

2. Building Photos. I also noticed that many of the building photos that are displayed in the upper left corner of the interface haven't been sized properly. The interface displays those photos at 200x140 pixels, yet some of those photos are stored at over 1300 pixels wide. 380 KB 200x140 pixel .jpg files aren't good...and that is really bogging-down the entire interface. ;-)

3. Disabling the Back/Forward buttons (at least in Firefox). I keep finding myself wanting....NEEDING a back button as I am maneuvering through the interface, yet that is a service that has been disabled. Why? I assume there are very good reasons for this, but it makes the interface more cumbersome overall.

4. General appearance. The map graphic, in general, isn't that attractive to look at, and without the accompanying drop-downs on the left-hand side of the interface, it would be very difficult to use. I would think that the map could graphically be made much more appealing and "intuitive"...but obviously I don't have a good sense of everything that went on behind the scenes to arrive at that current design.

I might think of more, but those were four items that quickly jumped out at me as I was playing around with the interface a bit this afternoon. Hope that helps!

Derek
Some interesting links at your blog John, thanks.

We're all big fans of the following maps here at City:
I saw nothing has really been posted here in quite some time, figured I'd contribute. In my opinion, this is a feature that seems neglected by most Universities, which is surprising given the numerous tools available these days.

We, Millersville University, played around with Google Maps and came up with a decent mashup. We even went as far as to implement clickable buildings, using coordinates rather than overlays (we found that adding 100+ overlays made the map crawl).

Map of Millersville University
The map tiles themselves were the most time intensive. We cut out aerial screenshots from various maps (Google, Ask, Yahoo) and manually re-created the campus in vector shapes in Photoshop. The actual JavaScript was a combination of adopted code from Google and other contributors and some custom stuff.

In a nutshell, we feed the map an XML file containing building information for each of our markers (i.e. image, departments, description, coordinates, building type). Then we create two click events for each of the markers to add the information windows and the "clickable building" feature.

The clickable building feature basically loops through each marker and uses the marker's coordinates, the cursor's position, and a "point-in-polygon" algorithm to determine which building is clicked. This may sound inefficient; however, we've found that for roughly 120 markers, there is no significant delay.
Ryan you did a great job on that map!

Interestingly enough, our team did a similar job for the University of Ottawa here in Canada:

Interactive Google map of U Ottawa

The map is still stationed on their testing server, but our development work is finished for the most part.

We even went as far as making a brief video to showcase all of it's features:

Video Demonstration

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