It seems that the convenience of GPS-centered, pinch-zoomable digital maps have left good old paper maps behind. That was, until designer Anne Stauche brought some interaction magic back to the paper world.
Map² is probably the smartest paper map you’ve ever consulted for directions. It starts as a square with a tiny city overview. It unfolds to two panes of mass transit. It unfolds again to four panes of the city map. And then, for its final, most amazing trick, each of these four quadrants can blossom into a zoomed-in view. In other words, zooming in is as simple as unfolding the map.
"I’m fascinated by how interaction design can be translated into physical products," Stauche tells Co.Design. "I started to design interactive digital maps before there were Google maps, and it was also then when I had the idea about a zoomable map on paper. Looking at the great zoom features of digital map systems, I found it frustrating that their physical counterparts are not so flexible. You usually have to open an entire map even if you only want to see one specific area, you can’t choose the level of detail, and of course you can’t zoom in."
Indeed, whereas interaction design drives innovation in the app marketplace, it’s often an afterthought in analog goods that might opt to focus on the comfort of ergonomics or the clarity of illustration rather than new paradigms of core usability. Given the historical importance of cartography, it seems relatively remarkable that the germ of the idea for zoomable paper maps only predated Google’s (and Apple’s) efforts by a tiny margin. But then again, the idea is only part of the challenge. Implementing a zooming physical map is a whole other thing.
"The most time-consuming part is the actual design of the city maps. Each city is different in size, shape, and density and therefore bears its own design challenge," Stauche explains. "What area to actually show on the map (to figure out the zoomable sections as well as the displayed information) is specific to each city. The challenge is to make the content work with the folding (and the other way around), not to overwhelm people with too much information, and to allow people to access it in a simple and intuitive way—as it is the aim in digital design."