Denice (Warren) Ross and Joy Bonaguro, URISA 4th Annual Public Participation GIS Conference, 2005
When designing an online mapping system for the lay public (i.e, not GIS experts), there are an overwhelming number of decisions to be made about display, functionality, and content. Inadvertently, these critical decisions are often outsourced or made by technical staff who don’t understand the needs of the audience. The result is a system that is technology-centered, rather than user-centered, and the mapping system itself can become a barrier for the public gaining access to information. Online mapping systems are especially vulnerable to a technology-centered development approach because 1) online GIS technology is specialized, complex and still somewhat limited, 2) conventional design planning techniques such as flowcharts are ineffective at capturing the 4-dimensional nature of a mapping environment within a web site, and 3) the web imposes considerable restrictions on mapping display and functionality (e.g., small street labels that would be perfectly legible in print are fuzzy and illegible on screen). Combine these challenges with unclear staff roles, and you can get feature-creep, design tug-of-wars and ultimately difficult to use systems. The intent behind this presentation is to help clarify the most appropriate decision-making roles for the techies and non-techies working on online mapping projects.