In the Details: Map Integration

Apple has been slowly integrating maps into all of its software. Calendar was recently made a bit smarter. If you enter a location for an event that is in your address book, it will go ahead and map it for you. Then, it will calculate the distance and offer you both driving and walking travel times.

To cap things off, you can select “when I need to leave” as an alert time. Oh, and since you’re going out, why not go ahead and show the local weather while they’re at it?

Not Helpful

So, I was driving to a venue I’d never been to before, and I had asked Siri to plot a route for me, which she did very nicely, even though I thought for sure she wouldn’t understand the Italianish name of the restaurant. As I was driving, I was listening to a podcast, as usual. The podcast ended, so I turned on my iPhone to select a new one. Usually, I just play through all the episodes I haven’t listened to and wouldn’t have to select one while driving, but I was behind on Mac OS Ken, so I had specifically selected that podcast. After the iPhone scanned my thumbprint, it looked like this:

To select a different podcast, I needed to tap the Episodes “button” in the top-left corner. Yes, the one that is almost completely covered by the turn-by-turn directions. It was difficult to hit while driving, and tapping the directions takes you to the Maps app, which I did the first time I tried to hit it.

Come on, Apple. I expect better of you.

Routed

I had to drive down to Quantico yesterday to present a visionary scenario at the NCIS headquarters, so I tried out Apple’s new Maps app with spoken turn-by-turn directions. Overall, it worked well, but there is one glaring issue I encountered.

It initially presented me with three routes to choose from, and I selected route 3, which might take a few minutes longer, but would avoid the D.C. beltway and would be more scenic. I tested the app’s ability to reroute right away by making a slight detour to fill my tank. It didn’t miss a beat, giving me new directions within seconds after I turned left, instead of right. It wasn’t until after I had left the PA Turnpike, eaten dinner, and reached the exit where route options 1 and 3 branched that I discovered the problem. Apparently, when the app rerouted me, it remapped the entire route, defaulting to route 1. It isn’t smart enough to remember that I had specifically selected route 3.

That should be easy enough to fix, but it’s the kind of detail I expect Apple to get right the first time.

Is Coal Losing Its Power?

The most recent project in my information visualization class was map-based. Kofi continued with the energy theme from his poster and looked into President Obama’s proposed restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from US power plants.

The proposed restrictions will limit new fossil-fuel-burning power plants to no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt generated.

Kofi begins with a pair of maps showing the projected number of coal-fired power plants per state, based on intentions reported in 2007, along with the projected carbon emissions that would result. The second pair shows the actual number of such plants and their carbon emissions in 2009. The series of smaller maps show the current states of the proposed plants indicated in the first map pair. The final map shows the percentage change in the amount of electricity generated from coal-fired plants between 2011 and 2012.

Kofi’s maps aren’t perfect. The color scale in the final map is misleading, for example, but that is easy to fix. What I’m most pleased with is that he started with relatively uninteresting data, but with further research was able to piece together an interesting and compelling story.

Mapping the Design Landscape

Lindsey Estep started out with a simple venn diagram as the basis of her map and built out from there. The initial three circles forming the diagram are:

  • Creative Research: primarily focused on conceptual and visual consideration
  • Engineering Research: significant testing and study, frequently requires prototypes, pragmatic
  • Social Research: centered around research about the audience/user, including emotions

There are color-coded areas that contain the cross-over domains, and then the gray center is made up of the four domains that significantly utilize all three, with labels placed on the side they are weighted towards. Listed around the outside can be found organizations, journals, and luminaries for each area within the diagram.

I must say, of all of the diagrams I’ve encountered that try to map the design landscape, this is one of the most elegant. The categorizations and relationships depicted are accurate, and nothing seems forced. I’m extremely pleased with the way it turned out.

Design Definitions and Relationships Realized by Visual Data

Aaron Geiger is one of my graduate students this semester, but he is actually a Master of Journalism student. He’s been taking the course because he needed an elective outside of his department, and he is very interested in design. This was actually the perfect course for him, as it was primarily reading, writing, and discussion.

It is no surprise, then, that Aaron took a much different approach to mapping the design landscape than did the rest of my students. Here is the process he followed:

  1. Collected data using snowball effect on established, credible websites that define different areas of design. For instance, after selecting “Industrial Design”, there were options (links, suggested views) to “Peter Behrens”.
  2. Selected three different definitions of each area of design, and weighed amount of times each word was used.
  3. Word usage was coded with a number depending on amount of times each word was used.
  4. Data entered into a spreadsheet, then visualized using Gephi.
  5. In Gephi, data was plotted and then visualized by algorithm.

The map is organized by the major disciplines, each assigned its own color. Every entity in the map (e.g. person, school, subject) is represented by a circle. The size of the circle corresponds to the number of times each word connected with the original discipline definition. Font size matches circle size. Lines show connections between circles, and the thickness of the line represents the number of threads connected with the snowball sample.

The design of the final artifact needs some work, as it was generated by software, and Aaron doesn’t have the design chops to redraw it. The results are interesting, none-the-less. I’m particularly surprised by the seeming insularity between the disciplines.

Timeline of the Design Landscape

Andrew Sheldon approached his visualization primarily as a timeline. Starting in the 1400’s with the invention of the printing press, he presents events in each of the major design domains right up to Steve Job’s passing. Events are color-coded and linked to their domains with lines. Domains are sized based on typical salaries, and arranged so as to show interrelations by overlap. Color bars on the inside of the circle reinforce the introduction of each domain. Design methods are listed and explained on the left using color coding to attribute them to the domains that use them.

There could have been a better selection of events with more time for research, and the treatment of the methods was not given the same attention as the rest of the map, but those are minor drawbacks that can be easily fixed with another iteration. It’s a well conceived piece and quite beautiful.