Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Project Review: USHMM, Crisis in Dafur

Since I started this blog back in June you may have noticed a bias to discuss example projects from Google Earth Outreach, its true, and I make no apologies for my focus. My reasoning is that it's good to raise awareness for non-profit and that Google Earth is excellently suited to non-profit outreach as the level of expertise needed to produce a project is low when compared to GIS software. This is especially true if the project is simple and that is a characteristic very apparent in the Dafur layer as I discuss below.

To access the layer, select: Layers > Global Awareness > USHMM: Crisis in Darfur

Initial thoughts: What I like most about this project is its simplicity, there are only 5 layers including a well designed introduction placemark. Lots of projects I have seen break the 3x4x5 rule and by doing so run the risk of confusing users with low IT skills. On the subject of simplicity, the names of the placemarks have been kept to 3 words in the layers column so that each one occupies only one line, I suspect using snippets. This is also good design as it keeps the project compact in the layers column.

Other Pros: Lines are thin and subtle in colour given the colour of the background. The icons are simple with appropriate use of colour (more info: my post on icons).

Screenshot of balloon

The balloons are professional looking, with good use of photos, subtle icons and links to further information on the web. I have noticed a number of projects where people have put information in Google Earth that has no spatial reference point. IMHO it is better design to link to non-geographical information on the web rather than put it into Google Earth itself.

Cons: If you zoom in within the project area you will see icons becoming visible that were hidden. This is a feature trick using regions, and is a way of dealing with screen clutter. The problem with it is that a user with low IT skills may become confused and not realise they have to zoom in. IMHO a better way of dealing with the problem is to chose only the best placemarks in the main file but to link to an additional file with all the placemarks. The user with low IT skills avoids getting confused and the expert user still has access to the greater mass of placemarks.

On a more minor point the flame icons are difficult to distinguish when they clump together. By putting a circle with a halo around them this can be improved.

Original Placemarks on the Left, my Version on Right

In the example I have replaced the original icons with my own, if you try and count the number of icons on the left you will find it difficult, on the right you can just about work out there are 9 icons because of the way the halos overlap each other. A final small point is that the cross in the top right corner of balloons is difficult to see because of the dark blue colour chosen.

Conclusion: Overall its a great project and the best use of design I've seen anywhere. Simple design can be very, very effective.

The layer has been very successful at raising awareness. At a time when coverage of the Darfur situation was waning it brought the issue back into the spotlight as in this article.

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