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How do we distinguish between what is ahead and what is behind?

Layman: “Err, we shade?”
Architects: “Buddy, use different line weights.”
So, how do we choose what colors look best?
Layman: “Let us check what looks best. Trial and error.”
Architects: “Let us try to build a theme for our work, the rest shall fall right into place!”
Layman: “How would you fit so much information in such a small sheet?”
Architects: “The trick lies in the art of representation.”

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But some might wonder, isn’t it about understanding? Yes, it is. But what sets apart an architect’s sense of visualization and mapping is their deeper understanding of the design principles, color psychology, and representation skills. Another question might occur to many- so how do architects do it differently than the layman?

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The key technique used by architects and design professionals is called data visualization and mapping. Data is like a bag full of stones, but what comes to the world as information is the diamonds. Data visualization and mapping ease the process of obtaining information from large stacks of data. Data visualization allows architects to research and present the potential of the site and characteristics that offer deep insights into aiding how the project may be developed with the help of design solutions. Mapping techniques allow the visualization to be an interactive and creative process rather than being a boring activity of data collection research.

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We would often see that visuals draw larger audiences than text and numbers – this is where comes the importance of design psychology. Our mind automatically tries to look for patterns when data is represented in a visually appealing manner, which in turn eases the process of developing a conclusion and making more informed design decisions. The commonly used elements for visualization and mapping are geographical distribution, correlation, timeliness, scale, and many more. Our brain tends to extract visual information quicker than statistical data and text and clearly express thoughts during the design process.

Data is broad of two types – qualitative and quantitative. The common perception is that qualitative data can only be represented visually in a proper manner. But this is incorrect – there are several tools that when correlated with other elements can form great visualization and maps, that can easily deliver information as and when required.

But there are a few basic things that can make an architect look like a layman if not kept in mind – a map is not a map without a direction arrow, coordinate frame, scale, and legend. It shall become a mere drawing if any of these elements are missing. A map is only as good as it is represented through the correct composition and use of dots, lines, and colors.

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But the use of basic drawing elements is not the only thing that makes architects and design professionals stand out. They can use multiple software to ease the entire visualization and mapping process. Hand-drafting is a basic skill that must be known to all architects but the ability to use software not only saves time but also allows one to make multiple iterations for visualizing the data and making more interactive maps. Knowledge of programming languages such as Python, JavaScript, R, etc. eases the use of the software and one can also customize how the maps are to be visualized. Some tools for presentations in a more visual manner are Tableau, Oracle, and Power BI.

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Creative mapping also comes with multiple hardships, the most important one being to extract useful information from the raw data and present it in a manner of ‘story-telling’. The key to solving this issue is to answer the ‘three-Whats’ of data visualization. What is important? What is the pattern? What are we trying to answer through this? As soon as the visualization starts narrating a story independently, that is when creative mapping is successful. One must always remember, that too much complexity in the visuals may result in the meaning of the data being lost.

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As design professionals, we must realize that when we build, we are working for the people. Thus, our representation should be such that it can even be understood by a layman without us having to use many technical words and huge documents for an explanation. Our clients give us time to pitch our design for a particular project. This is the moment for not only testing our design skills but also the moment where our communication skills come into play. The better our visualizations, the clearer our idea is. The better we communicate, the higher the chances of selling our design! Art is only as good as it communicates with the people it is meant for. A design speaks for itself when it is crafted in a manner that the visualization and mapping self sustains and creates a pattern that delivers all the information that is required.

Author

Currently pursuing her major in urban planning, she believes that design and literature are two paradigms which can alter the overall outlook of the world when backed by practical data.

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