Sparkmaps

Sparkmaps

Sparkmaps are small graphics that are embedded in a sentence, table, or listing to enrich its content with spatial information.

What Problem Does This Solve?

It’s not always feasible to show a full-blown map or even only an image of a map as a figure on the side. Needed is to show the spatial information right where it is needed and without being taken out of the context.

When to Use This Pattern

Use to enhance understanding of:

  • Reference
  • Detail
  • Relation

What’s the Solution?

Many potential solutions can be envisioned. Some examples include:

  • Embedded within a sentence
  • Type-ahead Search (Gazetteer): A user searches for a location. The application could offer type-ahead results with Sparkmaps to show the location in the context of the search
  • Preview when tabular data is side-by-side with a map: A search for “Colorado” returns rivers in Colorado. Identifying a single river is easy, one just needs to click on the table row to highlight the feature on the map. . Sparkmaps reduce the physical effort by providing a preview of the feature hinting its location without the need to identify each and every row.
  • Features not visible in current extent: A spatial search for US cities with a crime rate above 10% returns the results list but at the same time the map is already zoomed to a certain extent that does not include all the search results. The name of the city might be meaningless without the spatial content and one might only find out about the actual location by zooming to it and therefore loosing the current extent, which is undesirable. Sparkmaps provide this context without zoom-hell.
  • Tabular data without a map: Sparkmaps can help providing contextual info when showing geographic data in tabular form, e.g. a list of bookmarks
  • Printing tabular data without a map: Assume a user has chosen to print out a results list without a map and therefore the spatial reference is missing altogether.

Why Use This Pattern?

Any geographic feature (=piece of information that has location information) becomes more relevant in relation to other (fixed or derived) features, e.g. mentioning a place makes more sense if I can see its location.

Special Considerations

Because of the small nature of sparkmaps the main challenge will be to keep them legible and meaningful.

  • Usability: Like with any other user interface element, the value and downfalls of using Sparkmaps depend greatly on its use and abuse. It is really important to only use Sparkmaps when necessary or important for completing the task on hand. Sparkmaps should not be used just “because we can”.
  • Cartography: There is an inherent need to improve the cartographic and content selection capabilities to meet the need for creating small-sized maps.
  • Size: The size of Sparkmaps can range from 24 pixel to 32 pixel with 16 pixel not being sufficient and 48 pixel too big in most cases.

Examples

Sparkmap

Sparkmap


Sparkmap

Sparkmaps

Sparkmaps

References and further reading

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