Last Friday the CHI Fellows continued work on our Mapping Memory project, getting into the actual coding and design of our map. Because we are working in a large group, we identified the three main tasks (design, data entry, and time slider building) and subdivided into three teams, each working on one of those elements. I elected to be part of the design team, in part because I knew it would be a challenge for me, and partly because I love the stories that maps can tell, and I wanted to see how I would do at creating a map style that fit our narrative.

I was certainly right about the challenge piece. Despite having done a few tutorials early in the week, using MapBox to design map tiles was an entirely new experience for me, and, as one part of our group needed to work on how to create a pop-up, this left myself and Eric (another first-time fellow) to try to figure out the MapBox design tool. We struggled to even find the place to begin, but through a little trial-and-error we eventually began to learn which icons and buttons did what. Unfortunately, MapBox doesn’t allow people to work collaboratively (or if it does we couldn’t figure out how to make that happen) so only one of us was able to actually be working on the map, while the other tried to follow along. I think perhaps were I to go back and do it again, I would have suggested we both open a map and then design two separate maps at the same time, so that at least we would both be familiar with the controls and we might have picked things up more quickly. As it was, it took us such a long time to sort out what we were doing, that eventually our senior fellow had to remind us that this was a rapid development challenge and that we were getting bogged down in the details.

Even though we were pressed for time, we still tried to think through which elements of the map were important to our narrative and which were not. We decided, for example, that while having 3D buildings on the map was visually interesting, we didn’t need them, as our map will primarily be associated with outdoor spaces. We also eliminated distractions on the map by reducing the strength of the highway lines, fading the colors of the land and water to a more muted green and blue, and taking out the topographical shading. We want the focus to be on the pop-ups, so a simpler background made the most sense. We did however, decide to include county lines because we had originally done the searches for protests and rallies by county. The county lines are part of the narrative, they make it easier to see where the greatest densities of activity occurred and, as many of the protests took place at the county courthouses, leaving in those lines helps people to see the area that would be affected should the protests result in county-level change.

While it would have been nice to have more time to think through some of the other design possibilities, it was also good practice to have to make these kinds of decisions quickly. We finished up the design, pulled the access key that would allow us to put our tiles onto the map on our website, pasted it in according to the directions, pushed it to the repository and…. got a white screen with <div> in the top left corner. After an hour of trying to find out why it was happening and coming up empty, we decided to give it some time. Another senior fellow said that last year it had happened to their group and in a day or so it just appeared. Maybe it was just slow to load? So we ended our day with the mystery unsolved. (We did eventually sort it out, but I wasn’t the one to do it, so I will leave that story to @knowle50, if she decides she wants to tell it. Thanks for saving us, Katie!)

Until next time,