Mapping Memory: Web Designer as Information Cartographer

by Aaron Rester

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  1. Digg.com is the obvious practical implementation of this effect. Actually, what’s the work of a cartographer here if the paths are laid out automatically by the users?

    On the statistics site, we would need more than the page-by-page overviews and show actual flow (animations even, realtime even).

    If we are able to provide an infrastructure that changes itself over time based on user interaction then we’re done. Maybe we’ll really be making maps of what’s there. Oh no of course, not, it will change too fast…

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  2. It’s funny you say we should add Cartography as a metaphor. I thought it already was a part of information architecture? I started my professional career working on signage and wayfinding and the first thing you figure out is a a sign is more useful if it is part of a system, a hierarchy or some kind of informational architecture (not to mention actually pinning sign locales on a real map). It was from sign system planning that Web design seemed both similar and natural. This work continued to UI/UX design and I still “map” out a site or application first. In fact, I find these hybrid tree diagrams + wireframes to be the most useful way for everyone to discuss an application or Web site; designers, developers, marketers and executives can see the lay of the land at glance and see where patterns and problems occur.

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  3. On the statistics site, we would need more than the page-by-page overviews and show actual flow (animations even, realtime even).

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  4. The comments on ‘residue lines’ was very insightful.  I think one practical thing to take away from this article and the discussion is that designing your site to be easily adaptable to be important.  You really never know how a website will work until you actually put it out in the market.  From a business perspective being able to respond quickly to market reaction is what separates winners from losers.

    From a technical point I think tags and a content weighting system could be practical ways to achieve some of the ideas discussed in the article.

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  5. That was unclear to me. My father’s an engineer and my mother is an artist, so maybe it’s my somewhat equally-brained legacy that makes it hard for me to understand why we want to make this such an arcane process.

    “Don’t Make Me Think” needs a sequel called “But Stop Trying to Think For Me.”

    The worst mistake you can make in my opinion is to try to guess ahead of your users. We adapt rapidly to systems. When systems attempt to adapt to us, I feel like we’re missing the point.

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  6. The idea of forgetting about the architect sounds great, hell, forget the builder too; we are here to find reality anyway right?  The only problem is that Lefebvre’s idea didn’t turn Descartes on his head; he (like all post-moderns) built on the foundation he was given.  That’s because you don’t have to be as smart a Descartes to understand that you can’t have anything “between”? until you have “discrete things”? (ideally, at least two).  The “relationships”? are between the objects described by Descartes.

    It sounds to me, Aaron, that you did have a fun time exploring someone else’s architecture and I encourage you to not shy away from the task of building now that it is your turn.  I ask you to at least accept your own agency and influence in the world and especially on the site you create.  You see, there is no history “per se”?, there is only what we remember and someone has to choose what that, is so go ahead and make something beautiful.  The cartographer, like the architect, chooses what is important, decides what to map, what is of value.  If you think a cartographer’s job is to present everything, show all experience without evaluation then you would have a life size road map that is as useful as just walking down the street to see where it goes.  Quintitian understood this, that is why he meticulously designed his eternal space, he is not exactly the poster of your idea.

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  7. Fascinating post.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of web design as cartography … this will give me something to mull over today.

    Thanks!

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  8. @Harland: I think you’re reading a little more radicalism into my post than is really there—I’m not calling for forgetting the role of architect, but rather for enriching our understanding of the role of the designer by adding to it the metaphor of cartographer. It’s not a choice of one or the other. Web designers are BOTH architect AND cartographer, because websites are both map and territory (Korzybski never saw a website).

    Nor am I advocating the abdication of the designer’s responsibilities in favor of a purely user-created topography—if we take the example of the paths on a college campus, for example, the users/walkers are only allowed to choose the paths between the buildings, not the placement or purpose of the buildings themselves.

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