There’s value to be found in static websites such as portfolios or landing pages. But interactive websites have become the norm as more people grow accustomed to digital interactions on the web.
When you consider all the moving parts of a social network or web forum you realize there’s a lot that goes into a good interactive web design. For this post, I’d like to focus on the implementation of dynamic maps in website layouts.
Dynamic maps are perfect for interactive sites that require visual or user-interactive data. Even static maps can be enhanced with free APIs like Google Maps. Learn from these examples and see how you could add dynamic maps into your own interactive layout designs.
Custom Map Details
Static images maps can be useful in more basic websites. But modern tools allow frontend developers to create enhanced maps with extra dynamic features.
My absolute favorite example can be found on the portfolio site of Rogie King.
If you scroll down to the footer you’ll notice a small map with vector points along the west coast and midwestern United States. Hover any of these points to get a dynamically animated tooltip with some extra juicy details about Rogie’s life & work.
This interactive map design behaves more like a personal touch added to the website. It doesn’t serve a vital purpose but it’s aesthetically pleasing and gesturally brilliant.
For a more practical map design have a look at the OldSF website. When clicking on any individual area of the map you’ll get details about historic landmarks and dates from San Francisco.
An interactive sliding bar can be manipulated to shift between dates and hide/reveal dots relevant to a certain time period. This site’s full design is based around a map with custom details. It goes to show you can style maps to be relatively small or to overtake an entire webpage.
Since maps are a visual way of looking at the world, it’s fair to assume that data visualization can go hand-in-hand with map design.
Many digital artists and designers use maps for things like infographics. However, more interactive features can be added when maps are coded right into a website.
Take for example the Immigration Explorer page from the New York Times website. You can select any group from around the world and learn where they predominantly settled in America from the 1880s to the early 2000s.
The idea is to give visitors a chance to see how this data looks visually with a representational map, rather than listing statistics in a data table.
Developers can get even more creative with online APIs like Google Maps. Consider the Open Charge Map which lists nearby charging stations for electric vehicles.
You enter a location or zip code and the map zooms in to show charging stations nearby. These data points are appended dynamically and meant to be fully visual, rather than listing addresses from a search query.
Plus if you click any of the locations you’ll get more information and further details about how to find it.
Data visualization on the web has grown by leaps and bounds. Maps are just one of many successful methods for showcasing graphics with dynamic content.
Full Dynamic Webapps
Some websites have gone the way of turning infographics into pure HTML/CSS/JS web applications. Another creative technique is to build maps that follow in a similar fashion.
The Messages for Japan website is a great example. It has no primary navigation because there are no further pages beyond the map itself.
Messages from around the world are cataloged on the website and published online with data points. The map is powered by Google and stylized using the Google Maps API. It was built in support of Japan after the 3/11 quake which occurred back in 2011.
Another fairly detailed yet exquisite example is the Airbnb map landing page. This initially plays a small video but can be skipped right to the map itself.
This page is fully dynamic and pulls real-time data from people who have used or are using Airbnb. You can click+drag to move around the globe and select different data points to read more.
Keep in mind that full-page map designs require a tremendous amount of work and computational resources. You won’t be able to support all browsers but you can pave the way towards future ideas and possibilities in the world of web development.
Creating Maps for Websites
To build your own custom map from scratch would take years and require a lot of coding. Thankfully there are pre-built solutions and APIs to help reduce this time down to a few days or a couple of weeks.
My favorite web app is Mapbox which can run on both web and mobile platforms.
You just sign up and start customizing your map however you want it to look. They have a free plan which limits to 50k views per month, but paid plans come with more applications and greater support.
But Mapbox doesn’t just help you build maps that look great. It’s also a tool for pinpointing nearby locations with valuable resources based on search queries, addresses, or really anything. If you have the patience to go through their developer tools then the sky is truly the limit with Mapbox.
Granted jVectorMap does have a slightly steeper learning curve, it’s the perfect tool for developers who don’t want to limit themselves to an online platform.
Dynamic maps come in all different styles both pre-built and custom-made. A dynamic map can be exceptionally useful or completely useless based on your goals. I hope these examples can get you thinking about how maps influence a website, and more specifically how interactive maps can enhance the user experience.
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