Thursday, October 20, 2016

HabitatXChange & CityVis

This week Inclusive Maps won an award for the best student CityVis Visualization at the Habitat 3 conference in Quito, Ecuador. This conference was organized by the UN Habitat. The aim of this conference is to determines the future of urban development globally for the next 20 years. Read the beginners guide to the New Urban Agenda.

For us, the research team working on AIM, this is huge news. Not only we recognize that there is a growing interest in this particular topic. We also got useful feedback through this competition. Since the members of the jury are all well known characters in the world of data visualization we can rely on the feedback they gave us:

"Inclusive Maps is a great concepts for alternative maps, driving forward common concepts. I would love to see these maps live, my overall score just reflects the concept status."

"This is an excellent idea and proof of concept. While not necessarily innovative in its visualization methods, the idea of making maps that support navigation by users with diverse impairments and needs is an important consideration and increasingly possible with the data that cities are collecting."

"The project idea is quite impressive and the research conducted is admirable. Both the visualization options and the possible visualization categories associated with the project are very well executed. Moreover, it could be implemented in various cities regardless of cultural differences. Overall, its fit with the Visualizing Cities exhibition is undeniable."

These reviews are incredibly helpful for us to make the next steps. We now know that we need to do in the next steps. Since the reviewers got asked to rank along the following criteria using a scale ranging between 1 and 5 (from worst to best) we got a good picture on what we need to focus on. Here are some examples:

“Relevance: 5
Innovation: 4
Applicability: 5
Accessibility: 3”
“Relevance: 5
Innovation: 2
Applicability: 5
Accessibility: 3”

This makes clear that we have to shift the focus of our research towards accessibility. Although this is no big surprise (we basically only have images of visualizations) we now are backed by reliable feedback for further decision making in the research process.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Framing the subject

Let’s get into the actual subject. I defined 3 main questions which work as a good playground for collecting data, asking people and defining new goals. These question are the outcome of a quick recap of the former research project Inclusive Maps. In addition to the questions I show some interesting related work that I find useful in this particular step.

What are the overall goals?

The outcome of this project seeks to help large groups of people with certain impairments to finding their way through urban environment structures. But before all; we want to find out what the actual people have to say about this. The paper Experience of Multisensory Environments in Public Space among People with Visual Impairment (2015) helps to get a sense of what people with visual impairments have to say about public spaces in general. The survey has some really good questions prepared and it creates a good overview of the everyday challenges people with visual impairments have to deal with. Another good article describes the challenges with mobility disabilities. Mobility Disability and the Urban Built Environment (2008)

In the next steps I am creating a survey like Q&A prepared with more precise questions regarding the more or less obvious benefits of new technology. My first interview partner would be Udo Zeller. He is the representative for people with disabilities for the administrative district of Potsdam-Mittelmark.

What’s already there?

To kickstart the related work search I use Google Scholar to get a quick overview of the most recent work. There is already a lot to read but this helps to avoid unnecessary work and can help to transfer interesting outcomes into actions.

What’s the actual challenge?

I see several different challenges. First we need to get to the right people and listen to them. Making them comfortable talking about their impairments and the barriers they encounter throughout the day. Creating insights from what they are talking and documenting it in a right way.

The second challenge I see is gathering data. First we need to decide if we want to use the data which is already collected, stored and offered on open data portals from cities. Or we are creating our very own data set. This could be a better way to support the idea of using data for better map visualizations. Again, we eventually want to create maps with useful data for people with certain impairments. To this day open data portals are mostly hosting data in the field of Administration & Finance, Buildings, Community & Economic Development, Education, etc. Open data portals itselfs are a huge step forward but often lacks of data for impairments. Here are 3 open data portals which I really like just because of the vast amount of data sets:

Saturday, August 6, 2016


In every project it is mandatory to have at least a rough plan to communicating the steps and goals you want to archive throughout the execution. I have good experiences with the concept of the four stages which are; discovering, planning, creating and applying. This concept originates from the book The Design Method which I really like and highly recommend. It helps to outline projects whether it's a design or a research project. For AIM I created a timeline visualization to make basic assumptions on goals and when I want to archive them. Download the PDF (31KB)

What's AIM?

AIM (Accessible Information Mapping) stems from the project Inclusive Maps. Ute Benz and Sylvia Kautz were co-authors under the supervision of Prof Boris Müller from the design department of the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam.

Inclusive Maps provides a conceptual framework for designers, developers and social scientists that want to create maps for different groups of people, especially for persons with impairments. With AIM we take one important part from this recent project and dig deeper into user centered research to figure out and determine how different impairments can benefit from alternative map visualizations.

The overall goal of this project is to show the world two things; A map can improve the lives of many people by providing sophisticated data that can be consumed in a easy and efficient way. In addition to that, we believe, that not only people with impairments can benefit from this. Seeing on what data and visualizations certain groups of people rely may makes architects and urban planners more empathic when it comes to building spaces for humans.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Organizing tasks on a research project

From recent design projects I was quite impressed by the task manager produkteev. This tool helped me to stay in contact with everyone involved and always gave me a great overview of my recent changes and upcoming tasks. I also decided to use it as a tool for managing my research work.

This tool provides four information layers: Network, People, Projects and Labels. Network describes the overall project structure that I am working on a daily basis. Working with different partners and clients I need to have them all in one place but visually divided. The next layer provides an overview over all the people that are involved working with you on a certain network. Probably one of the most important layer is the project layer. There you add projects to the network - since this can work as a pre-task list it can get quite confusing. Tasks are INSIDE projects. Which I would describe as a sublayer to the project layer.

Alright! Another important feature (if not the most important) are the labels. Use as many labels you want. This comes handy when a project blows up very fast and you'll need to look for this special little detail. Using labels makes working productively much faster and easier.

Of course this tool has countless other features like search, filter, priority, etc.

To round up this post; there are many other task management tools in the wild. I decided to stick with produkteev since I already have some good experience with it. Let's see if this will work for research work as well.