Saturday, April 7, 2018

good ux for print maps for porchfests and other many-performances events

I'm working with Newton Porchfest and got into this long-winded discussion of what makes a good non-interactive map for that kind of event...

(NOTE: I'd worked with the people of the neighborhood Porchfest I dig into here, and they resented it. For this unsolicited and specific criticism I am sorry and I have redacted the identifying information.)

For reference, I was able to dig up the printable material of another neighborhood's Porchfest and put a screen shot of the relevant bits here. The design of the original is great, higher quality than what I generally make, but it had some information flow issues that I thought would lead to a poorer experience for people going to the porchfest

Lets study what it does:

It's sorted by time - actually, I'd say "grouped" by time, into 6 or so color-coded blocks.

Within each time chunk it seems... sorted by address number I guess? With some exceptions, but mostly it seems to be in increasing street number. But that kind of sorting is well-nigh useless, since that's not how street addresses on multiple streets work, and most people won't know the address ahead of time anyway. So effectively, there is no band or porch sorting here, just grouping into time chunks.

So, first problem: there is no kind of identification, like an arbitrary number or other label, for each porch or band that would connect a band name and address back to the map. Once a reader finds a band they might like, they honestly probably have to enter the address into a GPS if they don't know the neighborhood, only a few streets are labeled.

Second problem: while I think there's some use to visually cueing what time block a performance is, I'm not sure the rainbow ordering carries the information well - (though I do dig its LGBTQ -community connection!) ROYGBIV, the rainbow order, only does a so-so job of saying "well Red is earlier, Orange is later, Yellow later, Green even later..." People don't know that intuitively, they have to think about it if they recognize the order at all

(Somerville famously has the porch location determine its timeblock, and so has a progression in east to west order- see - the 3 colors aren't any more obvious then rainbow order, but the east-west migration helps make order of the chaos)

Showing time on the icons is a tough infographic problem! If there were few start times, I might say "early shift is black porch or performance numbers on white dot, mid shift is black numbers on gray dot, late shift is white numbers on black dot" - so at least there's a logical progression from light to dark that if people are seeing an icon the map, they might be able to guess when there's a performance there. You could do something with shapes as well?

Third problem: because there is no meaningful listing order, even if you know your buddies band name you have to skim the whole list to find them.

Final critique: there's a lot of repetition in the table. "Brookline, MA" appears on every line! Similarly, each row in a time block still says the time... 1:00PM 1:00PM 1:00PM 1:00PM. If you got ride of the city name on each line, and then labeled each time block (I could see maybe a BIG 1:00PM, rotated 90 degrees, along the side? Just spitballing), maybe then you could use a two column layout, and bump up the font size for easier reading...

Lets compare that to what I did for JP Porchfest. Probably the easiest to read description is on my developer blog: i'm not a print designer but i play one on the web.
My design has its flaws but I think I made some good trade-offs...

It splits the city North and South (arbitrarily - but after the first year of watching people flip the map over and over with the schedule on one side and the map on the other, this seemed better) and assigns arbitrary numbers for porches, also going North to South. Each porch number then is also a row on the block schedule, so each porch has its own row with the address and the bands playing go in chronological order, left to right.

So this poster assigns arbitrary numbers for porches, going North to South. So if you can locate yourself on the map, it's pretty easy to find a nearby porch number, then find that in the block schedule. And once you've done that, you can look around neighboring rows on the map, and see "what else is in this neighborhood that I might want to wander over and see?" -- because neighboring rows in the block schedule are more or less actual neighbors, and then time is in a logical order too, so you can plot a day without having a lot of travel (JP is pretty dang big!)

(In 2017 I improved my tools so things weren't 100% North South - like in 2016, Porch 3 might be on the west, but Porch 4, while technically the next one south, might be far to the east, then Porch 5 might be back west... so in 2017 I built tools to let me number porches by hand, into clusters... still North / South roughly, but higher chance of being in the same set of blocks if you're nearby in the block schedule)

What the JP Poster doesn't do is let you easily answer "hey I know this band is playing, where and when are they?" You'd have to skim the whole block schedule (and it's tougher to skim than Brookline's, because the blocks would make your eyes jump around) But once you find the band, it's pretty easy to find it on the map, since the porches are numbered, and in a North South order.

So, getting to what Newton might want to do; admittedly it would be a ton of work to do a JP-style block schedule by hand (the printmap is basically a giant screenshot of HTML I made) so I can either help with that, or we can get some of the same principles in a more list-y, less block-y view.

But whether block-schedule or list, ordering is amazingly important. You need to decide if your primary usage is:
1. I know a band! Where are they and when?
In which case you might want to a giant list of bands, each with the porch info there (the porch numbers will seem to jump around in the list though) - or you might want several lists of bands, the 12PM bands, the 1PM bands, the 2 PM bands, etc, like how Brookline does it but with the bands sorted in alphabetical order not the porches
2. I know where I am in the neighborhood? what's playing near me?
In this case the listing will be in north/south or east/west order (or chunked by neighborhood if you're feeling ambitious!), and bands will be in arbitrary order, so people will have to skim the whole list

I know for its first year [Some Other City] had both style of listings! (In theory great, in practice they didn't do a good job using numbers or letters or colors to let people take advantage of the good work they did.)

It can be challenging to make the block schedule, and also to make custom icons or whatever. I might be able to team up with a designer for this, I have some tools that automate certain things. Also there might be some "thinking outside the box" I'm not doing... like maybe bands should be numbered, no porches. And on the map, instead of an icon, you might see [5|12|20|31] Which would say band 5 plays at noon, band 12 at 1, band 20 at 2, band 31 at 3. That might be a mess! (And or if you had a HUUUUUUUUGE map you might able to put the band names right there. That's sort of what you get when you click on a porch at but of course that' web so things can be clicked)

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