This amazing collection of quirky and very individual maps got me thinking about different user perspectives and mental models of terrain on the web.
The maps in this collection show that a real-world landscape can be mapped from many different perspectives and elevations. There's a 3D map of a ski-resort; a map of smells in New York; a map of French cheese, and maps showing cultural and historical associations.
Most websites have a specific information architecture or workflow, often based on a real-world process (the shopping cart or basket, a filing cabinet, an art gallery). For example, material design uses a rather subtle metaphor of stacked pieces of paper.
A website that I worked on once used the metaphor of an observatory looking at different quadrants of the sky. Users also had the option to switch metaphors, or to go to a view that didn't use metaphors at all. The issue with this particular metaphor was that it was one that didn't fit the terrain very well, and that users weren't directly familiar with as an everyday experience. And it didn't just fade quietly in to the background as a good metaphor should.
When a website metaphor is working well, it makes so much sense that you're probably not even aware that it's there.
Different perspectives for different uses
Back in the bad old days of Web 1.0, websites used to have a clunky menu on the front page directing specific types of users to content that the site owner thought would be of interest to them. (For students, For staff, For prospective students, For alumni...)
The Web 2.0 version of this idea is much more interactive. For example, Google Maps has multiple layers of information for different requirements (cycle routes, restaurants, attractions, bus routes, and so on). These represent different perspectives on their data for different types of user. It would be great if it was easier to turn these different layers on or off.
What does this tell us about customers?
What this tells us is that each customer has an unique perspective on the world, together with unique requirements, and this also applies to your website and the services you are offering. One customer may be looking at your product or website to solve a particular problem in their industry, but their existing setup may be wildly different from another customer. So their requirements and their perspective will be different, and you need to communicate something different to each of those customers.
This is where smart and interactive interfaces that remember your preferences come in handy. If I frequently select directions for bus travel on Google Maps, that becomes the default option for the directions view. When I search for things on Amazon, it remembers my previous searches and purchases, and offers me similar content based on my previous choices.
All the different maps in the gallery are different views of the underlying data (the territory) customised for particular preferences (culture, food, recreation).
The question then becomes, how well do you know your customers' preferences, and can you customise the user experience of your product or website to respond to their needs and preferences?
Mind the Map, a new collection of artwork published by Gestalten, shows the skill, humour and care involved in map design, including one depicting New York’s smells, and a meticulously hand-painted ski map