Keepin’ it Causal

In the annals of design, “Make the logo bigger,” might be the most infamous request you’re likely to hear. But his little kid brother, “Can you fit this in?” is far and away the more frequent interloper to our inboxes.

For the sake of fitting it all in, we sometimes condense (or forget to expand) a design to the point of impinging on hierarchy and causality. Often, the pieces we’re putting together as web designers have relationships that cannot be effectively illuminated through proximity alone.

Debussy defined music as the space between the notes. So should it be with design.

Which Way?

So allow me to register a humble gripe with the print output of Google Maps. Traveling through the Adirondacks a short while ago I printed out some driving directions that made me and several other fairly sharp cookies do a double-take:

Google Maps printout
Detail view of a Google Maps printout.

It’s the distance bit. Are those distances on the right end of the rows from the locations on the same line, or the distances to them? After a moment of troubling, you can figure it out, sure. But figuring things out is not what you should be doing while winding your way through traffic on a high speed six lane highway.

“Wait. How far until the next—Fudruckers! We missed the turn…”

This layout takes what should be a straight-up linear relationship and introduces a tedious moment of forced cognition—and subsequently doubt—by failing to expand and clearly define the relationships between items.

Change of Direction

While it won’t win any beauty pageants, here’s one possible take on expanding Google’s layout to clearly suss out the connections:

Google Maps printout redesigned
Detail of a revised Google Maps printout design.

An exhaustive, deeply explored treatment this ain’t. And I’m sure any number of bright young design things could pick it up and turn it into something better. But the point should be clear.

By expanding the design, we’ve allowed the opportunity to clearly flag relationships between data in a way that’s unmistakable. You wouldn’t print out this version and be left wondering which way is up.

Give that design a little room to breathe, and we might all find our way.