Wednesday, June 18, 2008

3D Discussion - Simple is Good

This blog is coming up to its first Birthday, it has made me sit back and reflect on a number of issues of which more on the big day itself. One of the things is that despite writing this blog for a year I feel isolated, I see little evidence that the Google Earth community is beginning to concentrate on good design rather than flashy delivery. So its been a real pleasure to see Bjorn over at thematicmapping blog (1, 2, 3, 4) really mull over his own innovation in producing 3D thematic maps quoting critics (like yours truly here and in comments here), cartographers and book chapters. Good for you Bjorn, lets have more discussion like this.

That being said, I still disagree with him :) . Here's why:

Simple is good: When comparing countries on a thematic map using color on a 2D map just works, 3D prism maps in google earth create problems that require users:
  1. to click something (e.g. to find out the true value)
  2. to navigate to a new view (usually involving 1)
  3. work out what they are looking at (most users are used to 2D color thematic maps, they don't know what a prism map is about at first glance)
all of these 3 actions are 'work'* the user has to do to get information that requires no work to acquire on a 2D version of the map. You may think that these bits of work are trivially small, well my analysis of hits on my tutorials says each hiccup of work will lose you users.

Which neatly makes a more general point; if you can present data in a way that is both simple and effective then you have to have very good reasons to switch to a more complex presentation technique.

But back to the main point: I'm really pleased to have someone else discuss design of content in Google Earth especially someone quoting design texts.

*to psychologists its known rather grandly as 'extrinsic cognitive load'


Bjørn Sandvik said...

Hi Rich,

Thanks for your response! I've been clicking around your blog for a while, and I find lots of useful information. It's now included in my feed-reader.

We might not agree upon the benefits of 3D mapping, but I think this discussion is very important.

Keep up the good work!

Rich Treves said...

Hi Bjorn,

No problem, as I said, I'm really pleased to see someone innovating with GE but also aware that design principles are important. And, if I haven't made it clear, I'm impressed with your MySQL/php wizardry, you're pushing the envelope in all sorts of interesting ways.