UI Genius: CityMaps Uses Brand Logos To Make Maps More Useable

Could you make your way across San Francisco using logos alone? (Okay, and maybe a few street names, too.)

In 2009, an Oscar-nominated short called Logorama spent 16 minutes breaking down our entire society into logos and trademarks. It was fantastic satire. But now someone has pretty much done the same thing in real life.

CityMaps is a view of New York City, Austin, and San Francisco through its logos alone. Rather than using satellite images, Street View, or legends for schools and restaurants, the map uses branding in its purest form—along with offers for all sorts of corresponding coupons—to help you discover somewhere you’d like to go.

To be honest, it’s a relatively cold, commercial way to look at a city. (There’s no architecture whatsoever!) But as Elliot Cohen, cofounder and CEO explains, it’s also a pretty effective way to break down geography. "Just a glance at the map and you can get a feel for all the small, medium, and big businesses in your city without ever needing to make a specific search query," Cohen tells Co.Design. "Visual search also helps people remember those hidden gems they might have walked by in the past, but don’t remember the name of."

The only problem is, hidden gems actually fare a lot worse in their logo-based map than the big businesses. Right now, it couldn’t be easier to spot the nearest McDonald’s, Gap, or Starbucks across NYC. But your standalone alehouse, cafe, or boutique shop often appears with nothing more than simple black and white type. Ironically, the one-off hidden gem appears generic, and the major brand with a colorful logo becomes the standout destination. (Though to be fair, they can contact the service to have their logos added.)

That criticism aside, CityMaps is extraordinarily easy to read. And it’s flat-out alarming how well our brains can process piles of information that, through the passive educational forces of mass marketing alone, essentially function as a secondary, short-hand language to distinguish one burger joint from another.

Logorama

If you want to try it out for yourself, CityMaps is online. It’s also a free iPhone app.

Download it here.

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10 Comments

  • Son Dao

    I don't think this is UI Genius. Unless there are good icons for all sorts of businesses and other addresses, all this is is like a prime time ongoing advert for the biggest brands. Even if it weren't, all icons representing companies would have to have a consistent size and look for it to be an interface and not a product placement. Interesting concept but a fail in terms of improving usability.

  • Ayn Roberts

    Really love the effectiveness in this design, though it hints at a greater dialogue in the possible marginalization of independent small business. Because we are drawn to what is familiar, I feel like small businesses will now have to work even harder to grow their customer base and retain strength under these larger brands.

  • Steven Leighton

    Go straight down to the Bull and Strumpet turn right and go past the Bricklayers Arms' on your left to the Plasterers' Rest, turn left and keep going past the Original Oak then the Skyrack down the hill to the Rose and Crown walk through their beer garden and as you come out of the back you'll find what you're looking for.
     
    An old idea made digital.

  • Joe

    That might help in places where the roads are winding and confusing but in NYC? where the streets are numbered? Don't people give directions by numbers of blocks? Or by parks, residential buildings, etc? 

    This makes me think of big-box malls, where all the buildings are huge, artificially lit impersonal white shells with no personality or identity other than the brand on the outside. 

    This week my local grocery store changed from one brand to another, overnight, and you'd hardly notice the change inside.  Same staff and aisles, same products in the same place, same open-air, doorless refrigerator blasting cold into the shop with industrial heaters warming the room agains the refrigeration. Is brand _really_ more important than local or available?

  • wheelyweb

    As Steven says, you can be added, but he did neglect the sentence preceding that one, here it is in full:  

    But your standalone alehouse, cafe, or boutique shop often appears with nothing more than simple black and white type. Ironically, the one-off hidden gem appears generic, and the major brand with a colorful logo becomes the standout destination. (Though to be fair, they can contact the service to have their logos added.)

    Well known brands are automatically added independents have to know about it and work harder to be included to the same level. 

  • Steven Leighton

     (Though to be fair, they can contact the service to have their logos added.)

    4th para in, last sentence.

  • Joey B Lawton

    Love the idea. Especially that it shows where tweets are taking place. It strengthens the fact though that we are a commercialized dependent society. I'm guilty of it. For instance if you zoom in on Sansome and Clay Street in San Francisco, you'll find four Starbucks in a 3 block radius.