Heading out to the GeoDesign Summit (and a TOC Rant…)

So, I’m heading to a decidedly non-developer focused GIS conference, and I’m kinda excited. When I first heard about the GeoDesign Summit back in late 2009, I automatically assumed it was going to be a conference focusing on the “design” aspects of geospatial applications – usability, user experience, cartography – a “future of web design” type event, but for geoweb developers and designers.

Although that would be a fantastic event, apparently that’s not the case. From what I have about last year’s event, it’s more about using GIS as an interactive design tool – enabling on-the-fly “what-if” scenarios. In the past I’ve helped create desktop tools that did this sort of “just-sketch-and-the-app-does-all-the-hard-work” apps, so I expect it will be interesting to learn about how this is being applied and how it’s implemented in Esri software.

Since these new “GeoDesigner” tools are likely directed towards the non-traditional GIS user, I hope there will be discussions addressing usability of the tools. For too long the UI’s for geoweb applications have been in lock-step with the desktop UI paradigm, and I think we need to dispatch with the table-of-contents + toolbars +map model because it simply does not work for those who have not used desktop GIS. It is also much to “open-ended” and overly complicates applications, yet so many “GIS” people staunchly believe that every map related application simply must have a table of contents.

Yet somehow Google Maps and the zillion mashups it spawned, all the pretty and amazing apps by Stamen Design, and a growing number of application created by DTS and others still manage to be easy to use – despite not having a “table of contents”. 

For a while Esri was actually trying to force this issue by simply not providing a TOC control or TOC services, but it seems like the angry mob bearing pitch forks and torches has prevailed. A search for “esri flex table of contents” leads to all sorts of articles where people are clearly still trying to cram a desktop experience into what should be a focused web application. Repeat after me – “I don’t neet a TOC, I don’t need a TOC.”

Anyhow, I hope that this is addressed, and if not I’ll try to bring it up and see what the “great minds” in this space are thinking about this. We can create all sorts of cool new technology but if it’s poorly packaged it will not have anywhere near the intended impact. 

It should be an interesting few days of hanging out with various bloggers and Esri folks, as well as a nice break from the freezing temps here in Colorado!

If you’re out at the GeoDesign Summit and see me wandering around – drop by and say hi!

3 thoughts on “Heading out to the GeoDesign Summit (and a TOC Rant…)

  1. Dan_Frank

    I have been struggling with this since I started developing web mapping apps. All of our clients want a table of contents and some of them even want advanced functionality like the ability to control visibility within a single layer based on unique value renderers. All of them want support for scale visibility constraints and integrated legends so not only have I not been able to get away from a TOC but a basic table of contents never suffices. I agree that for non-GIS users it’s not as important and that a well thought out application can eliminate the need for a TOC in a lot of cases. For many clients though, especially those using web mapping apps to extend their GIS, we may not be able to get away from it anytime in the near future.

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  2. Morten

    I was preaching the same thing at dev summit last year and even had some good examples why the other approach is better, but i don’t think anyone really listened or the developer is overruled by the GIS people when they got back home.

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  3. ruprictGeek

    I don’t necessarily agree with your take on TOCs. There are certainly examples where they make sense. IMO, a good example is an Electric Utility network. Quite often there are tons of features on the screen symbolized on various properties (phase, as-built status) and the ability to consult a legend/TOC is desirable. Also, not every web mapping application is focused enough to leave out the TOC. We’ve seen cases where we built a “GIS Portal” for a company with 100s of feature types that the users can add to the map via services. In that case, there is no standard/cool way to symbolize everything so each feature type is identifiable on sight. Finally, there are some groups of users that really want a TOC. If the user thinks it makes an app more usable, then it does.I know this goes against much of what “usability” preaches, but the only truth I know about the web and usability is that there are no absolutes. Sometimes a TOC is needed, and sometimes it surely isn’t.Anyway, have fun at esri. Hopefully, I’ll see you at Dev Summit.Ruprict

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