Don’t Make Your Interactive Map Overwhelming

We look at a lot of different interactive maps all the time. We try to keep thinking forward and live on the edge of innovation. In order to do this we are always watching what others are doing and think about how that could fit into what we are trying to build in our platform. There are a whole lot of different approaches that people take to interactive mapping, but one of the least understood and common failures is when developers try to do too much with their map.

The K.I.S.S. Principle

KISS ButtonsThe K.I.S.S. Principle stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” It is by no means a new concept and it simply states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complex. Therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. That’s it. The more you think about the concept the more it makes sense, right?

Anyone out there who considers themselves a web developer, designer or works with websites on a regular basis has probably heard of the modern classic, “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Krug. This book is one that I would, and often do, recommend to anyone. Bottom line, if you cannot figure out how to use your interactive map then neither can your user.

An Example of Doing it Wrong – UCLA’s Interactive Campus Map

Normally in business I don’t like to speak badly about someone else’s interactive map, but in an article like this I need an example to make my point. If you have not seen UCLA’s Interactive Campus Map then you are probably better off for it. It has way more features than I can figure out how to use, it’s built in flash which we know is a no-no, and many of the tools and features either make no sense or are very confusing. The fact that the map has a detailed help section only goes to point out more of the problems with the design.

One thing you have to give Apple complete credit for is doing away with the instruction manual for software. Since the iPod launched, everyone realized that software has to be easy to use and figure out. A key part of Apple’s success was not what they built into their products; it was the decisions that they made to NOT do something. It’s more important what you leave out than what you put in.

Does UCLA’s map really need a feature that tells you the weather? Does it really need an annotation feature? They have a Facebook Campus Map Community page and Twitter accounts that are never updated… why? The campus map could easily be without all these features and nobody would miss them.

The Takeaway

Building a website or any feature of a website is a very public piece that will be used by thousands, if not millions, of visitors. We can’t assume that they can figure out all of the complicated things we want them to do. We need to make the experience extremely easy for them and ultimately intuitive.

Humans have been using maps for hundreds of years. Interactive maps simply take that map to the next level, but do they really need to be that much more complicated? I would argue for them to reach full adoption and be used by everyone they have to remain simple. After all, Apple wasn’t the first company to invent an mp3 player, smart phone or tablet computer, were they? Of course not. They simply redefined the way businesses built these products by removing the unnecessary.

So remember when you build your interactive map or virtual tour to keep it simple. Outline the goals you hope to accomplish with it, and don’t try to overwhelm or overdo. Ultimately your visitors will thank you for that.

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One comment

  • Sid August 21, 2012  

    Complete Overwhelmed by the sheer work that went into the “what not to have – interactive map of UCLA campus. Our requirement was simple to show a certain location starting from a well known landmark – this is the K.I.S.S interactive Map we made –
    See you there ta ta ..