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The Overview/Underview Map


The Inset Map is Not Dead; it’s Just Underpowered.

The Inset Map that can be commonly seen in many current interactive map applications is a relatively stale relic.  It’s largely stuck in the old paper-map idea of what an Inset Map should be, but does not benefit from the custom-crafted nature of the paper incarnation.  For the most part, it has not evolved within the common RIA as an active, engaging tool.  When hybridized with the Magnifier, the Inset Map can be a powerful little ally.

 (image source: powerportstore.com)

The Problem with Inset Maps

I go into more detail in a previous blog, but most Inset Maps that I see in online map applications are relatively passive indicators of context, rather than a seriously active tool. They force a best-fit-for-all algorithm to set the zoom level that is often not ideal.

The Problem with Magnifiers

They get in the way.  The act of dragging the magnifier around over the map covers up too much of the to-be-magnified map.  For example, if I drag a magnifier around over a map of Michigan, I can see a zoomed-in picture of Detroit, but that magnified picture is obscuring the surrounding metropolitan areas and I don’t have a great idea of where I am magnifying or what is around it.  I lose the surrounding context (and context builds meaning).

With Their Powers Combined…

We at IDV wrestled with finding the right size, the right zoom level the right position for our Inset Map; the results were never totally satisfactory.  For some time I had also been experimenting with draggable magnifiers with a user-defined magnification factor.  The magnifiers had a wow factor but their usability issues pushed them out of primetime consideration.  At some point, the inset and the magnifier were tossed together and, happily, they seemed to address the weaknesses of each other -a dynamic duo.  Like chocolate and peanut butter.  The IDV Inset Map became a hybrid of the referential overview and the active magnifier and the result was a more useful, active, and compelling tool.

How the Magnifier improved the Inset

  • Pushed a passive visual into an active tool
  • Empowers the user to define their desired zoom in/out level, rather than relying on a frustrating one-size-fits-all zoom level
  • Magnifier’s draggability/resizability means the user can create the ideal layout at any map view, rather than the typically-pinned Inset
  • X-ray vision effect when zoom levels are set to equal

How the Inset improved the Magnifier

  • Tethering the Magnifier’s target to the center of the screen and allowing it to be dragged, gets it out of the way
  • The navigation abilities of the Inset allows extreme precision when in magnify mode
  • Combining previously-separate tools into the same interface saves valuable screen real estate, reduces redundancies

An Engaging Inset Map

Below, an antique map of Ireland uses an Inset Map to provide a more detailed view of Dublin.  The map maker had full control over the location and extent of the mini-map of Dublin.  Allowing the interactive-map user to re-position and set the zoom extents to any level brings the Inset Map back into the realm of usefulness and empowers the user, nudging them closer to the role of map maker.


The Various Incarnations…

  The trusty overview/reference

 Pin-point Magnifier that’s not in the way of the focus area

Side-by-side comparative reference

  The serendipitous X-Ray vision effect (very cool when panning).

John Nelson / IDV Solutions / john.nelson@idvsolutions.com



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