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Inclusive Maps

„Inclusive Maps“ is a project that was created for the Microsoft Design Research Expo 2015 by Ute Benz, Sebastian Rauer and Sylvia Kautz

1 Introduction

When it comes to maps we often have General-purpose maps in mind.

[..] provide many types of information on one map. Most atlas maps, wall maps, and road maps fall into this category. The following are some features that might be shown on a general-purpose maps: bodies of water, roads, railway lines, parks, elevations, towns and cities, political boundaries, latitude and longitude, national and provincial parks. These maps give a broad understanding of location and features of an area. The reader may gain an understanding of the type of landscape, the location of urban places, and the location of major transportation routes all at once.

But what if our needs are much more complex than just looking up streets and locations? What if you are not able to perceive noise in a way other people do? What if someone struggles with an allergy during spring time? Everyone has it’s own highly individual perception of the world. Why using the same map? Our questions are simple and yet challenging: How can we bring the complexity of the countless needs into a good to receive and reliable visualization? Where is the data coming from and what can actually be done by everyone else to make this a rich and good to use experience?

2 Workshops

Quick Prototyping Workshop


In the very beginning of the course, during a one-day-prototyping-workshop, we focused on narcolepsy. We found this condition very interesting because it is invisible – as persons who have narcolepsy are bodily completely healthy and normal otherwise – and leads to sudden collapses where the patients fall asleep completely without warning.

To solve the problem, we created a kind of companion necklace, that has sensors inside that detect when the wearer collapses and emits a self-inflating air cushion that guards head and neck. On the other hand, the necklace emits a sound message that tells bystanders about narcolepsy and what to do.


Spark Core Workshop

That little piece of technology is basically the same as every micro controller we might have already seen, but it has a WiFi module built in. Since Sparkcore is partnering with IFTTT (If this then that) it was easy to just tinker what came into our minds. First we tried to hook up the Sparkcore with Facebook and it worked right away. Our idea was pretty much the same as the week before:

One person who is suffering from narcolepsy suddenly collapses in an urban area. People surrounding the collapsed person need to help but don't know how to approach the situation.

Our prototype eliminates the barrier of the state of not knowing what the person is suffering from and what is needed to be done. It recognizes that the person just collapsed and immediately sends an alert to the person nearby. It plays instructions how to help on high volume.

We simulated the whole scene with a soft potentiometer which is mounted, according to our idea, on important points on the patient's body. When the user collapses and the sensor receives pressure, it sends data directly to the cloud and triggers another event.


Ideation Workshops

We took a decent amount of time to evaluate what we wanted to work on during the larger part of the course. It was clear to us that we didn't want to create a product/service/device that would „help“ impaired persons in a patronising way by implicating that people with impairments are somehow incomplete compared to „normal“ people and need to be „fixed“.

In our ideation process we thought about different topics like Alzheimer's and anxiety, but what really captivated us was the idea of communicating different perceptions of the world. We really wanted to dive into the question how people with different impairments value and evaluate their environment differently. Thus we did a lot of research about map visualisation and came up with different personas for example use cases.


2.2 Project Prototyping Workshop


With our persona, Ada, a paraplegic student, we tried to find out what wheelchair users really care for on their way through the urban environment.

However, the outcome didn't really satisfy us. We focused too much on the visualisation of obstacles for wheelchair users and lost sight of what our initial task was: To create awareness for perceptions of the world that differ from our „normal“ point of view.

The result of the workshop was a paper prototype that strongly resembled a navigation app for wheelchair users. It wasn't really what we had intended to do, but we didn't have a real plan either how we could draw nearer to our main idea.


Final Project "Inclusive Maps"

We finally figured out that a product or artefact simply wasn't the right format to communicate our idea. Our initial concept was about communication different perceptions and we came to terms that one product can likely show only one perspective at once.

Thus we decided to take a systematic approach that we called „Inclusive Maps“. Our goal now wasn't to design one artefact or product, but to build a framework that encourages interdisciplinary teams of designers, developers and social scientists to create maps that show perspectives of people with certain impairments and help those to have a better experience using maps that are meaningful for them.

Our systematic approach is described in detail on our project website. There we provide background information, images, visualizations and some further ideas. The main focus lies on the overall systematic approach, which more or less has three steps: Data source, Data input and Data output. We ask questions and remind the reader which challenges occur with every step. The Infoboxes desicribe the process in detail.



Furthermore we provide three diverse examples to underpin our systematic approach and how we want to tackle the particularly linked challenges. The first example describes the complex topic of how paraplegic people are moving through their environment. We use data for pavement quality to show where wheelchair can savely go using the pavement and where it might be exhausting. This set of data can not only be useful for wheelchair users, but also for elderly people with walking frames of parents with strollers.



Two more examples show how our systematic approach can take effect. One of them is a map for people with allergies. This map provides an overview of a city and points out certain areas where problems with a particular kind of tree might occur.



Our last example is the most complex one that shows how dealing with the subject of inclusive maps really brings up problems with solutions that might not be trivial to find. It's about navigation for visually impaired people using already existing data of traffic lights with acoustic feedback and generating data of the orientational system on the ground while visually impaired persons make use of it. Can you think of meaningful sensors and other ways to gather such data?


Related Work

Fortunately, we are not the only ones who determined the issue that maps are not objective and there need to be different maps for different people.

Using real people to map the real world

Communities are the next generation cartographers


In the very beginning of our project journey we came across the idea that maps can never be objective, as they are created by and for people of a certain age and social background. Accordingly we said that maps represent our view of the world, moreover they represent the society in wich we live in. But at the same time they do not meet the needs of large groups of people who cannot make much use of conventional maps as we know them.

To tackle that problem we decided to individualize maps to emphasize the capability of maps as representations of subjective perceptions of the world. Our goal is to sensitize people for the necessity of inclusive maps and motivate them to take action.

We believe in the power of a bottom up accountability and want to empower people to co-create maps that meet their individual needs by collecting their personal relevant data. Therefore we need to create handy tools for users to easily collect relevant data.

Moreover there is lots of existing data just needed to be discovered and combined creatively to create valuable new information. Therefore we want to encourage creators like designers, developers and social scientists to join forces and work together in interdisciplinary teams.

Next Steps

The next for the project would be step to - figure out and combine data for beneficial use cases - create tools that enable people to collect data - visualize the data in an aesthetic and intuitive way we want to inform, sensitize and motivate people to join us creating inclusive individual maps that meet the needs of diverse people with special needs and abilities in different situations.

To begin with we would start a social media campaign to share our systematic approach of creating inclusive maps.

Ein Projekt von


Perspektiven und Social Skills

Art des Projekts

Studienarbeit im zweiten Studienabschnitt


foto: Fabian Morón Zirfas foto: Prof. Boris Müller

Zugehöriger Workspace

Microsoft Research Design Expo


Sommersemester 2015