• Leh Poulsen

How to manipulate behaviour with maps

Opdateret: 22. aug. 2019

The world of maps is huge; there are schematic metro-maps, geological maps, alpine maps (Oh how I wish someone would hire me to do an alpine-map nutch nutch), city maps etc. etc. They all have one thing in common: they serve a different purpose and are shaped and drawn accordingly.


I usually draw maps for pedestrian novice visitors in a setting where there is no rush, often meaning tourists at tourist-destinations. My main goal is to give them a sense of proportion of the place, inspire them to explore lesser known but wonderful areas and provide them with a sense of the atmosphere and history via the graphic style.


I'm personally convinced that the best way to design a map, is to draw features that are significant in the environment, so that they become highlighted fix-points that stands out. In that way the map highlights all the places relevant to the viewer (museums, restaurants etc.) and keeps irrelevant information (housing areas, office buildings etc) out. This makes it easier for the eye to scan the map and locate relevant information.


I recently came across a research article investigating how the level of details in af map affects how we interact with it and how well we connect it to the surroundings.


The article compares maps that are entirely diagrammatic and only shows spatial features via baselines and pictograms (1), to maps that are diagrammatic but with landmarks (2), and maps that are a complete representation with every house and tree thoroughly depicted onto it (3). I would categorise my style of map-drawing as a two.

Note: maps shown here are not the ones used in the experiment.


Alright so the three maps were tested and the conclusion was: The more detailed a map the more effective the correspondence between map and environment. "Effective" meaning that you don't have to compare the map to the surroundings as often.


I can see how a map where every tiny detail is depicted, in some cases, is the ultimate way to solve a tourist map. If it's a town rather than a city, with great variation in the town/landscape layout, I think it works fine. If it's a map of a greater area like a city with lesser variation in the street layout, I think it will be far too complex for the eye to scan. Another problem with the "detailed" map is that in order to show elevated houses on a 2D surface, you miss half of the facades and the map is therefor only truly efficient when facing north.


All three maps eventually guided the people to their set destination. However in the diagrammatically drawn map, some participants chose to draw on the map to create their own "landmark", making the map more as a number two. They also had to look at the map more often and they tend to put extra focus on street names and the layout and curves of roads.


This would seem like a negative effect on behaviour at first, but I would argue that it's all about perspective.


At the academy I did an experimental wayfinding project called Portal. In the project I wanted the map to force the users to pay extra attention to the surroundings. I found that if I peeled most information off the map and left only three pieces of information: location of water/park, building blocks and roads, the participants were forced to pay attention to exactly that. The destination points where markings on the map that corresponded to drawings of facades on the back of the map, resulting in a constant map to facade to spatial orientation.


The participants managed to find the destinations marked on the map, but even more interesting – they discovered new sides to the place, they'd never notice before, sparking a conversation about the quality of the houses and their effect on the overall experience (we're talking about non-architects, so quite impressive).


If you want to read the article yourself the details are listed below:

Kybernetes, Kian Teck Kueh, Christopher, A sociocybernetic approach to wayfinding map studies, 2007, 36, 9/10 1406-1421

66 visninger