User-centred approach is the key

User-centred approach is the key

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Maps are the perfect interface between a user and the data generated. They enable users to answer location-related questions, to support spatial behaviour, to enable spatial problem solving or simply to be able to become aware of space


The AffectRoute (green, 801 metres) and the shortest route (grey, 778 metres) of a given origin and destination. The AffectRoute is computed by considering people’s affective responses towards environment

Modern cartography is key to mankind. Without maps we would be “spatially blind”. Knowledge about spatial relations and location of objects are most important for enabling economic development, managing and administering land, handling disasters and crisis situations or simply to be able to make decision on a personal scale on where and how to go to a particular place.

Currently, more spatial data than ever is produced in the geospatial domain. Sensors of all kinds are available, measuring values, storing them in databases which are linked to other databases being embedded in whole spatial data infrastructures, following standards and accepted rules. There is also no shortage of modern technologies for spatial data handling, including data acquisition (e.g. UAVs), data modelling (service-oriented architectures, cloud computing), data visualisation and dissemination (location-based services, augmented-reality). So, where are we now with all these brave new developments?

Obviously we are not short of data; it is rather the opposite. But the real problem often is this abundance of data. We need to make more and more efforts, to deal with all the available data in an efficient manner, mine the relevant information and link and select the appropriate information for a particular scenario — a phenomenon described as ‘Big Data’. Oftenapplication development starts there. Because we have access to data, we make something with them. We link them, we analyse them, and we produce applications out of them. I call this a data-driven approach.

New technologies are also generated as we employ the full potential of a particular data acquisition, modelling or dissemination process. These need to be evaluated, addressed and applied; and often application development starts there. Because we have a new technology available, we make something with it. I call this a technology-driven approach.

However, the particular need, demand, question or problem of a human user is often taken into account only when the data-driven or technology-driven application, product or system has been built. Often, this causes problems or leads to products, systems and applications which are not accepted, not efficient or simply not usable.

By starting from the question what the demands, questions, problems or needs of human users are in respect to location, we could eventually apply data and technology in a sense that they serve such user-centred approaches rather than determine the use.

But how can we unleash the potential of geoinformation using an interdisciplinary approach? How can we make sure that spatial data is really applicable for governments, for decision makers, for planners, for citizens through applications, products, systems which are not forcing them to adapt to the system but are easy-to-use and efficiently support the human user? Maps and cartography play a crucial role here. Maps are most efficient in enabling human users to understand complex situations. Maps can be understood as tools to order information by their spatial context. Maps can be seen as the perfect interface between a user and Big Data and thus enable users to answer location-related questions, to support spatial behaviour, to enable spatial problem solving or simply to be able to become aware of space.


Map-based navigation interface, with an egocentric view, distinction between the past and future paths, zooming and panning functions, etc

Revolution in map making
Today maps can be created and used by any individual stocked with modest computing skills from virtually any location on the earth and for almost any purpose. In this new map-making paradigm, users are often present at the location of interest and produce maps that address instantaneous needs. Cartographic data may be digitally and/or wirelessly delivered in finalised form to the device in the hands of the user or he may derive the requested visualisation from downloaded data in situ. Rapid advances in technologies have enabled this revolution in map-making by millions of users. One such prominent advances includes the possibility to derive maps very quickly immediately after the data has been acquired by accessing and disseminating geoinformation through the Internet. Real-time data handling and visualisation are other significant developments as well as locationbased services, mobile cartography, augmented reality.

While the above advances have enabled significant progress in the design and implementation of new ways of map produc-tion in the past decade, many cartographic principles remain unchanged; the most important one being that maps are an abstraction of reality. Visualisation of selected information means that some features present in reality are depicted more prominently than others while many features might not even be depicted. Abstracting reality makes a map powerful, as it helps to understand and interpret complex situations efficiently.

Abstraction is essential. Disaster management can be used as an example to illustrate the importance and power of abstract cartographic depictions. In the recovery phase, quick production of imagery of the affected area is required using depictions which allow the emergency teams to understand the situation on ground. Important on-going developments supporting the rescue work in the recovery phase are map derivation technologies, crowdsourcing and neo-cartography techniques and location-based services. The role of cartography in the protection phase of the disaster management cycle has always been crucial. In this phase risk maps are produced which enable governors, decision makers, experts and the general public alike to understand the kind and levels of risk present in the near and distant surroundings. Modern cartography enables the general public to participate in the modelling and visualising of the risks their neighbourhood may suffer from on a voluntary basis.

Cartography is relevan

Cartography is also most contemporary, as new and innovative technologies have an important impact into what cartographers are doing. Maps can be derived automatically from geodata acquisition methods such as laser scanning, remote sensing or sensor-networks. Smart models of geodata can be built allowing in-depth analysis of structures and patterns. A whole range of presentation forms are available nowadays, from maps on mobile phones all the way to geoinformation presented as augmented reality presentations.


AR-based navigation interface, with a camera view, route overlay, street names and relevant landmarks

Where are we heading?
What we can expect in the near future is availability of information anytime and anywhere. In its provision and delivery, it is tailored to the user’s context and needs. In this, the contextis a key selector for which and how information is provided. Cartographic services will thus be widespread and of daily-use in a truly ubiquitous manner. People would feel spatially blind without using their map-based services, which enable them to see who or what is near them, get supported and do searches based on the current location, collect data on site accurately and timely. Modern cartography applications are already demonstrating their huge potential and changing how we work, how we live and how we interact.

The successful development of modern cartography requires integrated interdisciplinary approaches from such domains as computer science, communication science, humancomputer interaction, telecommunication sciences, cognitive sciences, law, economics, geospatial information management and cartography. It is those interdisciplinary approaches which make sure that we work towards human-centred application developments by applying innovative engineering methods and tools in a highly volatile technological framework. A number of important technology-driven trends have a major impact on what and how we create, access and use maps, creating previously unimaginable amounts of locationreferenced information and thus put cartographic services in the centre of the focus of research and development.

In this situation, it is of high importance that those who are interested in maps, mapping and cartography work together on a global level.