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FINESSE: Take Lessons from Google When Communicating with Maps

Girl scout running with map - the style of maps helps its message to be communicated with FINESSE/
Geospatial depictions are one of six essential visuals when Communicating with FINESSE

Getting a Sick Dog to the Vet

I heard one of the beagles yelp. Josie came running to the house with a limp. She was wobbling five minutes later. Her gums were light pink within five more minutes. It was time to get to the veterinarian.

The chief question was 'where'? We were not at home and we had never been to the vet in this town.

I pulled up Google Maps. A red dot showed my location. The roads were light yellow, developed areas were light gray, the water was light blue, and the open space was light green. One click on “veterinarians” and darker, highlighted locations appeared. Another click on the nearest highlighted “location” pin and all the detailed information appeared. As we raced to the veterinarian’s office, one more click on the legend and the very busy aerial photograph appeared, helping me identify the visual locations along the way.

Maps Provide Important Understanding

Physical locations and physical relationships are important for providing understanding. Akin to a picture, many decision makers will also try to orient their perspective based on where and who may be impacted by their decisions. Maps and aerial photographs are one of six essential visuals for effective communication.

Google Maps Gets It Right

Commercially available sources such as Google are sufficient for communicating to decision makers. Most Google-type maps have features provided in light colors or pastels that prevent the base document from detracting from the primary message. Primary features (the points of interest) that are the central point of the message should be shown in darker colors. This same approach should be used for all visuals.

Google also gets it right on minimizing text on the base map. Most labels, such as road numbers, are shown small to minimize distractions. The same approach applies to minimizing text about the primary point of interest. More detailed information can be provided in an accompanying table.

Aerial photographs should be in black and white (greyscale). Too many colors create a distraction from the central message. Most of us also find the initial aerial photo, a least when showing a large area, to be too distracting. Once again, we learn much from Google’s default maps not including the aerial view, but an easy click brings the layer into view.

Reports and live presentations usually do not provide an opportunity to click on layers in the same manner that Google provides on a computer or handheld device. This creates a temptation to cram too much information into one visual in a report or live presentation. The best answer is to use multiple “build-up” visuals that progressively show more information. You can trust links or PowerPoint animations, but the caveat is to beware of the technology (and connectively) when doing a presentation with the limited time afforded to you by most decision makers.

What This Means To You

Geospatial depictions are important for communicating context and orientation to decision makers. Google Maps gets it right when it comes to presenting visual information. We can learn much from their approaches related to all types of our visuals.


The illustration "A Girl On A Mission" and excerpts from this article are taken from JD Solomon's book, “Communicating Reliability, Risk and Resiliency to Decision Makers: How to Get Your Boss’s Boss to Understand.” The second edition is now available on Amazon. Sign-up for updates at Communicating with FINESSE.


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