How easily understandable are complex multi-layered system maps?

Format: Papers, RSD3, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Authors: Alfred Clatworthy Holmen and Gyuchan Thomas Jun

There has been a significant shift in the design community for the last ten years. The world has become more complex, more stakeholders and interdisciplinary teams need to be consulted and involved through the participatory design processes. In the fields of service design and systems ergonomics, several systems mapping methods have been employed to visualise the complex interactions of the systems within systems. The system maps are often shared not only within the interdisciplinary design team, but also with external stakeholders who may not have been involved in initial map creation and discussion stage. Therefore, it is very important to create easily understandable system maps and present them in an ‘easy to use’ manner, but there exists little research on how to create and present complex and multi-layered system maps. The majority of research is based on single layer diagrams. Sevaldson (2011) took into account how a multi-layered diagram could be used to represent the systems within the systems, but the usability of diagrams was not considered.

On the other hand, newly introduced interactive mapping and presentation tools such as Prezi, Adobe Edge Animate and MapsAlive, could enable us to create diagrams and maps more easily interactive, e.g. hyperlinking, zooming in/out. This development also allows us to create narratives and contexts that have previously been hard to do. There is a great potential to explore how these new tools could be used to improve the usability of complex systems diagrams. Therefore, the aim of this study is to investigate how much an interactive, multi-layered zoomable map allowed users to more quickly understand, use and explore a complex system map compared to a static and single-layered map.

Presentation & paper

Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2017
Title: How easily understandable are complex multi-layered system maps?
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 28 September 2014
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Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


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