Map of Navigable Spaces

Examples: Context:  The artifact (or its content) can be organized into distinct spaces or working surfaces which are semantically linked to each other, so that it is natural to go from one to another.

Problem:  How can the artifact help a user navigate effectively and remain oriented?


Solution:  Provide a map or diagram of the Navigable Spaces relevant to the artifact.  Organize it appropriately, and put it where the user can easily get at it; if possible, let it be seen side-by-side with what the user is doing.  At all times, show the user where he or she currently is (and there may be multiple places). If possible, allow the user to jump from one place to another by manipulating or gesturing to the map.
Illustration of "Map of Navigable Spaces"
Resulting Context:  The correct organization of the Map of Navigable Spaces is extremely important.  If the spaces are related via a hierarchy, use a Hierarchical Set; if they form a flat set, show them in a linear fashion, as with Choice from a Small Set; if they form a complicated graph, draw the graph.  High-density Information Display may give you some ideas.

You also need to figure out how to represent the sites on that map.  Good text labels are important, of course; make them accurate, concise, and descriptive, so users can easily find what they need.  Pictorial labels are visually interesting, but run the risk of being cryptic; still, they have been used to good effect in Web site maps that show the sizes and types of the pages' content.  Try combining them with text labels.

Some sets of spaces, such as Web sites, are so large that you don't want to show them all at once.  Interactive hierarchies may let their nodes be opened and closed; this is one way to cope.  Optional Detail On Demand may also help.  In any case, use your judgment and user testing to find the right amount of material to show.

Notes:  For Web sites and computer interfaces, if you use the common idiom of putting the map on the left side of the screen and a view onto the chosen "space" on the right, you've effectively created a Stack of Working Surfaces out of this pattern! It works well, and many people are familiar with it by now.

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Last modified May 17, 1999

Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell.  All rights reserved.