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Making Mental Maps Manifest

A German designer creates mashups of mental and real world maps.

Nestor Bailly, PSFK
Nestor Bailly, PSFK on November 15, 2011. @NKBailly

German designer Benedikt Groß is fascinated by mental maps. How do we remember locations and the spaces around us? What do we use, mentally, to get around in a complex environment? And more importantly, how do mental representations of space compare to ‘real world’ maps?

To answer these questions and hopefully gain some valuable cognitive and topographical design insight, Benedikt created a set of tools and processes that generate mashups of people’s drawn maps (assumed to be closest and most easily accessible representation of a mental map) with real maps from OpenStreetMap of Vauxhall in London.

 My idea was not only to collect mental maps of Vauxhall, but also to combine these mental maps with real world map data to “interpolate,” or in a way, to fill the white spots of the mental maps with data of the realities. I was hoping to gain with these mashup maps new insights in terms how people “see” Vauxhall e.g.: how is the space order around them? are there things they would like to change? What is important for them?

Benedikt asked residents of Vauxhall to draw maps of their neighborhood, then matched the mental and real world maps with the tools he wrote. Here’s the result:

While not visually spectacular, Benedikt’s project lays the groundwork for reexamining how we interact with, remember and represent large urban areas. With more development, the implications for urban planning, retail placement, transport and public policy could be huge.

MapMap Vauxhall

Thinking...