Notes and Reflections by feoMike

the issue is the issue

good design integrates multiple technologies, and highlights the issue, rather than the implementing technology. we of course need these technologies, we should support and invest in them. however we need to keep in mind that the issue is the important thing (e.g. healthcare, education, economy, workforce etc). technology (databases, CMS, digital maps, communication protocols, floating/scrolling tool bars - actually anything someone says is wicked cool about the web - etc) should support these issues; they should highlight them; they should help show disparity and gaps; they should help solve the issues, show where political compromise is; they should educate the public, and help us identify good debate and discorse; they shouldn’t act like they are bigger than the issue itself, because they aren’t.

geography has become one of these ubiquitous advancements in technology, mostly because of the ease of displaying web maps. two recent examples highlight excellent design integration of mapping technology in supporting policy issues. first the fed. govt. shutdown. the washington post ran a great article describing those metro areas in the country with the highest shutdown per capita workforce impact. second, and closely interwoven, is the impact of the affordable care act. the new york times also ran a great article highlighting where uninsured people live in comparison to the landscape of states expanding medicaid.

these two examples do an amazing job of helping illustrate the issues. by placing dynamic maps/graphics in text, to assit their thesis, we better understand the issue. our focus is not the technology used to create these sites and it shouldn’t be. my understanding of the local economic impact, and the states relationship w/ uninsured people is significantly better than with just text, or just the map. by interacting w/ circles of different sizes representing cities w/ variation in furloughed workers, i more completely understand those areas with the greatest impact. both issues are made more complete by interleaving text describing the issue, with wonderfully designed maps highlighting the text. these examples demonstrate how far we have come in developing web mapping technology. neither is a wall of text, nor a map taking up the full real-estate of the page. moreover, the map doesn’t have some crazy list of ‘layers’ to turn on or off, nor does it have an insane number of tools only geographic professionals will interact with. in fact, the interaction draws the user in and allows us to see even more variation in place. geography helps support the issue; better implemented maps drive better understanding of the complex landscape. both are expertly integrated designs.

the point here is that geography is an important asset in assisting the issue. geography helps us make connections. the technology used to define these products is less than secondary. it takes expert design, weaving the story w/ highlighting prose to make it all work. in my own work, we have strived for, but never reached this zenith yet. i look forward to sites in federal government that take on this kind of design. i look forward to a path, that is not technology centric, that is not software specific, that is not cms controlled, that is not campaign food. i look forward to technology assisting the issue, but being background. i look forward to when we can easily present something, and the comment we get is, “wow i really understand the conflict in spectrum allocation”, for example, rather than “thats a sexy map”. perhaps we will see more of this kind of approach in the federal government in the future; a boy can hope, can’t he?