CARTOGRAPHIC INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE - DESIGNING ONLINE PRESENTATION OF CARTOGRAPHIC INFORMATION TO FACILITATE USER UNDERSTANDING

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1 CARTOGRAPHIC INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE - DESIGNING ONLINE PRESENTATION OF CARTOGRAPHIC INFORMATION TO FACILITATE USER UNDERSTANDING Alexander Pucher University Assistant, Department of Geography and Regional Research, Cartography and Geoinformation, University of Vienna, Information Architecture is the practice of designing the infrastructure of a web site. Applied to cartography, it has to be discussed whether a purposeful structuring of spatio-related information in the sense of an 'Architecture of Information" leads to a better and more efficient knowledge transfer. Initially, the web was developed as an information oriented hypertext space. Increasing technological development enlarges this by the ability to use it as a software interface, adding a task-oriented user experience element. Taking into account the complexity of cartographic information systems, they have to be understandable, logically and consistently structured as well as easy to navigate and use to be successful. The presented paper shows to what extent optimizing the information flow affects the organization and representation of cartographic information as well as the possibilities of navigation. INTRODUCTION Why do users prefer a specific news site over another, why are certain online cartographic information systems more popular than others, even though they may offer similar content? If the information supplied doesn't make the difference, it has to be the way of how it is presented, of how useful and how usable it is to us. Problems with the structuring of information already revealed themselves during the 15 th century. Gutenberg's Bible from the year 1454 is regarded as the first modern book, however it needed over one hundred years, until side numbering, table of contents, subject index and title page became natural organization characteristics of a book. The manufacturers and reader of the early books were thus confronted with similar problems as the visitors of web sites nowadays. From the conception to the completion of building a successful cartographic online product, 'Cartographic Information Architecture' offers concepts towards an efficient information brokering. In the permanent area of conflict between visual design and user needs, designing the presentation of information to facilitate understanding is an essential task. THE USER IS THE CLIENT - DON'T MAKE HIM THINK! The basic concept of a successful online mapping application is based on user-centered design. Most significant advances in software during the last years are actually advances in user experience, not in technology. These improvements of user oriented software handling is strongly based on the evaluation of user needs, demands and requirements, as well as constraints and limitations. Any user experience effort aims to improve efficiency. This basically comes in two key forms: helping people work faster and helping them make fewer mistakes. How do we find specific information in books? All these years of book-publishing experience have led to a fairly wide adopted system to look up information: get an overview, a detailed table of contents and at the back of the book an (alphabetical) index. If you're just trying to find out what's in the book, you look at the introduction and, in case you want more detail, at the table of contents. If you're looking for information on something specific, you look at the hierarchy in the table of contents and try to locate it, or you use the alphabetical index, which gives you a list of pages where that word is mentioned. In cartography, this workflow can be adapted to the user handling of printed atlases. Due to their complexity, online applications in the field of spatial information however have other demands. Data selection,

2 editing, analysis and visualization of this specific information often leads to complicated systems with high learning curves. This is in particular problematic, since these kinds of services could offer the possibility to turn the passive user into an active information client, by changing the map information through user input and interaction. To assist MacEachren's view, that visualization is foremost an act of cognition, a human ability to develop mental representations that allow geographers to identify patterns and to create or impose order" (MacEachren, 1992, p. 101), new ways of dealing with information, in a sense of an cartographic information architecture must be applied. CARTOGRAPHIC INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE The term 'Information Architecture' has quickly come out of obscurity and become a necessity in web development. Many principles of the information architecture considerations can be adapted to online mapping applications and can be performed reasonably well by following a certain amount of logic. Its basic principle is to provide a high-level framework for consolidating and presenting our Web-based knowledge assets in a way that is: - Understandable - Logically structured - Appropriately integrated - Consistently labeled - Easy to navigate and use Information architecture is the process of figuring out what you want your site to do and then constructing a blueprint before you dive in and put the pieces together. It is the foundation for great web design as well as the blueprint of the site upon which all other aspects are built - form, function, metaphor, navigation and interface, interaction, and visual design. Initiating the information architecture process is the first thing you should do when designing a site. There are many factors in a quality web site. Design, development, creativity, writing, color balance, and organization are all contributors, but careful planning is what makes or breaks the site. The old adage 'It'll come out in the wash' rarely works in practice. Lack of planning usually results in unorganized material and plenty of unexpected problems to be solved along the way. Mapping application designers will benefit from a concise architecture by being able to produce accurate quotes and preventing project overrun. THE LAYERS Clients sometimes view the development of an architecture of information to be impractical, both in terms of the time it takes and the skill needed to do it effectively. But this mentality is slowly changing. A good architecture is incredibly effective, and knowing the basics of the process can save both time and money in the long run. Also, you don't need to be an expert to use it to your advantage. A user-centered design for an online mapping application can be developed, following a five-step approach. By following the work-flow in a linear way, problems can be addressed on time, if not prevented at all. Consecutive steps addressed to as layers in the scope of this document overlap, to guarantee a high flexibility in the design and implementation process.

3 Figure 1: Layer approach to user-centered design The User Needs Layer The first step in the process is to define the site's goals and strategies, based on the user needs. A basic set of questions should be addressed in this very early stage of the development. Among the things to clarify and pinpoint down are questions like 'What is the mission or purpose of the specific service?', 'Who are the intended audiences?',

4 and 'Why will people come to your site?'. Market research like surveys and focus groups can be valuable sources of information about your users. User research by means of user testing is a common form of gathering information about how the users think about your ideas. Besides the user needs are our own objectives for the application. These can be of business, legal or even personal kind and should be taken into consideration. The Content Layer Transferring the results of the 'User Needs Layer' is the goal of this layer. On the software side, the strategy is translated into content through the creation of functional specifications: a detailed description of the feature set of the product. On the information space side, scope takes the form of content requirements: a description of the various content elements that will be required. The questions to answer are: 'What are we building?', 'What are we not building?' and 'What do we need to build it?'. Defining the scope of functionalities and content is essential to fulfill all necessary prerequisites of the application. The Architecture Layer By arranging the content elements within the information space into an information architecture, we define the structure of the application. Historically seen, this layer concerns tasks undertaken by library science and journalism. It deals with the way of how to organize, order and group and finally present the information. The definition of the structure of the application leads to a design of interaction, describing possible user behavior and defining how the system will respond to that behavior. Conceptual models can aid the application designers and developers to realize a consistent information and interaction design. The Interface Layer With the knowledge of how the application will work as a result of the work undertaken in the architectural layer the interface layer defines what form the functionality will take. Besides this interface design, a design of the navigation within the system is essential to ensure an effective communication of the information to the user. Users rely on conventions - thing and habits they are used to. Using familiar items as part of the interface can avoid internal inconsistency and thus improve the system comprehension by the user. This does not necessarily mean to re-use the same buttons on every single homepage, but rather make use of metaphors, whether they emerge from well known internet sites or daily life situations. Architectural approaches and metaphors addressed to in greater detail in the next chapter - form the basis of a concise and user-oriented information architecture. The Design Layer At the first of the five layers of user-centered design, we focused on the user needs and the prerequisites of the application. Through several definition and designing phases we come to those aspects, which the user will perceive as the system the visual design. The graphical representation of the application may seem to be a pure aesthetically matter, but common strategic objectives have to be considered to transfer the results of the information architecture procedure to the user.

5 Development process The layers are structured in an sequential order, where the result of one layer acts as the starting point for the subsequent layer. This structured workflow enables the developer to identify problems on an early stage and react on time. It may however be advisable and useful to overlap two layers in order to evaluate results of one layer in the scope of another development phase. Figure 2: Overlapping development layers APPROACHES AND METHAPHORS Information architecture is concerned with the creation of organizational and navigational schemes, allowing the user to move through the site in the most efficient and effective way. These schematic arrangements define the overall logical orientation of the application. Along with the approach, metaphors can assist the developer to enhance the recognition factor and by that enhance the user oriented impact of the application. Approaches to information architecture follow either a top-down or a bottom-up order. In the first case, the site starts from a broad variety of content and functionalities that is breaking down into logical subsections. Site objectives and user needs are the starting points, whereas in the bottom-up approach, content and functional requirements build the basis. The source material is then grouped and assembled into higher level categories. Both solutions are feasible and can be used to define the architectural approach of the system, resulting in a logical structure of information arrangement. For all possible architectural approaches, metaphors can be applied. A linear structure follows a step-by-step approach, much as we know it from reading a book. Starting and end points are clearly defined, as well as the intermediate nodes along the way. A practical implementation of a linear structure of information is used in the 'wizard' principle of many web pages or software setup routines. The hierarchical structure often referred to as tree structure - operates on a parent/child relationship, where nodes represent narrower concepts within the broader categories, represented by the parent node. This hierarchical relationship is well understood by computer users, due to the fact that a majority of web pages use such a structure. Adding another dimension onto the up/down approach of the hierarchical structure results in a matrix or network structure. It allows the user to move from one node to another in any direction. This leads to a system, where information is considered as objects, connected to each other by context linkage, rather than interface or system boundaries. The complexity of matrix structures demands for new concepts of user guidance. In such an information structure, the classical

6 atlas metaphor is only one of several possible system approaches. Item lists, map indices and the like represent approved and well known methods of information retrieval, they can however not deal with the complexity of information systems in an appropriate and sufficient way. In recent years, a variety of information brokering tools have been successfully established on the web. An important characteristic of these tools is their ability to deal with dynamic both increasing and changing information scope. Cartographers can take these ideas and use them in a metaphoric way in systems dealing with spatial information. This will increase both the user understanding of the system as well as enhance the quality of information retrieval and brokering. The 'Google' metaphor stands for search engines in general, for high performance and easy-to-use in particular. The search engine works as an entry point to a complex information structure, as does the 'Amazon' principle. Offering the user a list of context items, based on the number of hits is a powerful tool to explore the information space in a non-linear way. Top-10 lists of the most frequently used maps or user reviews of parts of the application can assist the user through the complex and increasing information mass. CONCLUSION Online mapping applications are a powerful tool for the analysis, distribution and visualization of spatial information. Although well known and respected among cartographers, they didn't manage to establish high attention in society. Among the reason for this is the fact of poor user-centered design of most applications. Cartographic information architecture can enhance the usability and understanding of how to use spatial information on the web. It is no longer a question of how to transfer the printed information of classical cartographic products on the Internet, but of how we work with this still new - media. A concise planning and design procedure of the final product, based on the user needs can optimize online cartographic applications. Designing online presentation of cartographic information to facilitate user understanding is not only an additional task of the development process, but should be the thread of successful online cartography. REFERENCES Garrett, J., J. (2003): The Elements of User Experience. New Riders. Indiana, USA. MacEachren, A. (1992): Visualization. In R.F. Abler, M.G. Marcus, & J.M Olson (Eds.), Geography's Inner Worlds. Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, NJ Tufte, E. (1990): Envisioning Information. Graphic Press LLC. CT, USA. Wodtke, C. (2003): Information Architecture, Blueprints for the Web. New Riders. Indiana, USA. Biography Alexander Pucher, Mag. Alexander PUCHER, born 1971, studied geography and cartography at the University of Vienna and graduated with a thesis titled: Applied database-driven cartographic visualization in urban areas. From , he was research assistant and university lecturer at the Department of Geography and Regional Science at the University of Vienna. University Assistant since Within several projects, his responsibilities are in the fields of architectural design and implementation of system modules as well as software quality assurance. His major interests lie in GIS, web-mapping and the Open Source Cartography/GIS.

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