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Map making

I love maps. They’re an essential part of a design process. This quote is taken from an article originally written for ‘Interactions magazine’ in 2008:

“Making a map is a way to hold a domain still for long enough to be able to see the relationships between the various approaches, methods, and tools. Maps are good for visualising relationships.”

This is a nice way to think about maps. They are a moment in time, or the ability to capture a moment in time for just long enough to understand how something works, and the relationships in a system between different sets of needs and people.

Maps hold a domain still for long enough…

It’s easy to think that things stand still when the reality is the people in a system create constant movement, adaption and will shift our understanding of how something works, and how it could work in the future.

The detail we set out to capture about the relationships in a system is continually changing. Whatever we are mapping will change and adapt to what is happening around us in the world just as we do ourselves. We can never afford to stand still for too long either. 

Maps are something we make (map mapping – verb). They come to life but stand still just long enough as we gather around them to make progress.

Where maps continue to be useful is when they stay alive. They stay alive with new insights, understanding, and as we’re able to triangulate and build up layers of new data. Only then do they become about the finding the best opportunities to explore further.

Ben Holliday is an experienced design leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.