Friday, 20 January 2017




Welcome back Musings readers! I hope you all had a fantastic winter break.

When it comes to wayfinding, maps are often the first tool that museums provide to visitors. Maps are a crucial component of a visitor's experience in a larger museum; an ineffective map could ruin a visitor's experience. There are many elements to a successful map including: clear legibility, simplicity of language, appropriate scale, strong use of colour etc...

Keeping all of these elements in mind, I believe that the gold standard for museum map making can be boiled down to the following question: Would Dora the Explorer use it? 

Photo Credits
Dora the Explorer is a children's cartoon, where a little girl named Dora and her monkey friend Boots go on adventures. These two friends are guided by their trusted magical map. It may seem ridiculous, but Dora's map is quite effective for three reasons: 

1. Personalization

Dora's magical map is personalized to meet her individual needs. For every adventure, Dora's map changes to show her exactly what she wants to see and where she needs to go. It would cost museums a fortune to develop this type of personalized map; however, some are experimenting with maps 'personalized' for different audiences' unique needs. 

Personal Photo Credit: Hayley Mae Jones
The Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa is currently testing out a multi-map approach. One map is geared towards the "family" audience, emphasising major themes and activities. Another map (aircraft index) is geared towards the needs of the aircraft "enthusiast" audience, marking the location of each specific aircraft within the Museum. 

2. Simplicity

No matter where Dora is, or where she is trying go, her map always breaks the instructions down into three simple steps. Dora's map shows the audience each step in the journey, and highlights the process on screen through fun colourful images. Not only does the map present these steps visually, but it also communicates the directions orally.

In real life, this style of map is often seen in interactive touch screens at shopping malls.

Interactive mall maps provide simple, step-by-step instructions to shoppers. Newer maps highlight the simplest route for customers, provide auditory accompaniment for the visually impaired, and display clear images and/or store logos to indicate to shoppers where they need to go.

3. Language

Dora the Explorer in general is a very bilingual show focusing on helping English viewers to learn Spanish. The show (and the as a result the map) has been translated into multiple languages for viewers around the world to understand and enjoy.

It is challenging for museums to translate their documents into multiple languages. The cost of translation alone is enough to break a small museum's budget. In addition, unless the museum has access to people fluent in each of the languages, there is no guarantee that the translations will be correct (or able to communicate the desired message). Despite these challenges both the National Art Gallery and the Royal Ontario Museum are making strides into providing maps to visitors who read different languages other than French and English.

Personal Photo Credit: Hayley Mae Jones
Ultimately, I'm not saying that all museums should provide visitors with magical talking maps, like the one found in Dora the Explorer (maybe someday). Still, there are many elements that make or break a museum map. Dora's map is effective in that it is personalized, simple and accessible. This can serve as an unlikely source of inspiration for museum professionals.

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