Audience, meet concept
Can a map become the interface used for research to explore a wide range of subjects? Can it take geographic data and project it onto contextual, real-world objects, giving the user a more immediate understanding? How would it show relationships and correlations that connect time, place, space and experiences to a point on an abstracted representation of the world? Is this making any sense?
Lets check back in on Walter (“I’m not just a persona”) Waldsmiller as he searches for ways to access and process news stories in ways that are relevant and tailored to his experiences…
Walter is watching the morning news on CNN as he makes a cup of coffee and gets ready for work. He sees a segment on nationwide home prices and how prices have stabilized after years of decline, but show little signs of rebounding. CNN has a pair of pundits representing both liberal and conservative beliefs debating how this country got to this point and whether or not President Obama’s policies caused or sustained this economic morass.
Being the proud owner of a small, well-maintained house not far from Raleigh’s downtown, Walter wonders how local or regional home prices are faring, especially in comparison to national statistics. Curious, he also wants find out the causes for this situation. He picks up his tablet device and launches the PINPOINT app, navigating to economics and then home price index through the menu. He then holds up the tablet to his kitchen window, its camera facing the view of downtown Raleigh’s skyline.
Through the app’s interface, a line chart, prices and dates are superimposed onto the silhouette of several tall buildings. The data displayed matches the physical relationships and ratios of the buildings’ heights to each other. “That’s easy to understand.” Walter thinks to himself, “Prices around here have been going down for several years and now seem to have leveled off… but why?” Even though Walter dislikes the Obama administration, he doesn’t believe the story is as simple as either of CNN’s talking heads would have one believe.
He sits back down in his chair, sipping his coffee and looks at his app again. The live augmented view of Raleigh’s skyline is replaced by a map of the metropolitan area’s median home prices over a ten-year span, color-coded by value. There are ‘tabs’ on the side that allow him to peel back various layers of information, much like the layers of an onion. Geography (the base layer), history, politics, economics and demographics are but just some of the tabs available to choose from. These layers show Walter the connections between each other as he looks for correlations between local home values and other sets of data.
The history layer shows when Raleigh was settled, why it became the state capital as well as a center for technology research. Politics maps any bureaucratic decisions made locally or nationally that may have affected home prices; likewise economics shows policies or schools of fiscal thought had similar consequences. Demographics pull a wide range of data including household income, race, gender or crime to demonstrate if diverse people are affected differently. Finally, geography is the base layer showing tangible (roads, physical terrain) and intangible (administrative boundaries) demarcations.
Walter gets a good idea about the situation just through a cursory glance. In just the time it takes him to finish drinking his cup of coffee, he is able to digest huge, abstract numbers, relate them to references in his personal life and examine the relationships between seemingly unconnected subjects in order to better answer his questions. Satisfied, Walter plans to study it in more detail after he gets home from work.
Instead of having to look at a research problem through different lenses, Walter can view it chronologically, structurally, spatially, hierarchically, visually or any simultaneous combinations of these. In essence, this is what geography encompasses—multiple ways to look at and understand the world. More on this digression in a future post…