Through mapping, the basic understanding of a product is communicated within the first micro seconds of use. Mapping in product design, uses spatial correspondence between the layout of the controls and the devices being controlled, it is easy to determine how to use them.
Why do I need to care about mapping?
As designers, we want to minimize the hurdles that people come across when using our products, as if they hit too many hurdles they will drop out of the race altogether frustrated and tired. To keep people using your product and achieving their goal, we need to make this process as simple as possible. Mapping is one core pillar of this process in design. With extra thought at this stage, extra levels of communication such as labels or directions will not be needed saving time and expense. Good design is a communication method in it’s own right, so written signs or directions will clutter up the design and more importantly the mind of the user.
How about some examples?
fig. 1 Is a simple example of great mapping of a stovetop. The control nobs clearly relate to the position of the burners. The conceptual model the user has in mind, makes logical sense with the position of the burners and the controls.
fig.1 – Good Mapping of a stovetop
fig. 2 This mapping leads to a great deal more confusion. The users conceptual model of the relationship between the control nobs and the burners can have many different patterns in mind, as shown in fig.3
fig.2 – Poor Physical Mapping of a stovetop
fig. 3 This diagram shows the different options available to a user when confronted with a poorly mapped stove top. This simple confusion can potentially lead to a life and death situation, if incorrect burners are left on.
Mapping in the Digital World
So you may be thinking, “how does all of this talk about ovens, gas and nobs help my website?” Well the methods from the examples above are just as relevant when applied to the digital. Whether you’re an app or web designer, mapping must be considered in your designs. Always make sure that the conceptual model is clearly communicated to avoid users presuming a different model.
I don’t want to be a bad mapping designer!
So how to we stop giving our users exploding with frustration? There are a few ways in which to improve the quality of your mapping and improve the overall design;
1. Avoid Hierarchies
Abstract hierarchies are difficult to communicate as they are based on the conceptual model of the designer. In other words, how the designer thinks the user would navigate the mapping may be completely different to that of the designer. Keep mapping designs as close to the actual function as possible.
2. User test and make adjustments
Like all things UX, test test test. Trialling a design with users will give an accurate feel for how people will navigate the functions. If the users assumptions vary from that of the designer, then the design needs to be changed.