Porsche, Mapbox, Al Capone…

Porsche, Mapbox, Al Capone…

I’ve been reading this very old, bath-type book on GIS and crime mapping for various, non-nefarious reasons. It points out the importance of balance. On the one hand, building a GIS and using it to analyse criminal behaviour – and on the other, remembering that criminals do change their behaviour. Often quite irrationally, as in the case of Al Capone.

Then, this morning, @LaylaG0rd0n retweeted a link to this Medium article on in-car navigation, on Twitter – and the importance of balance was highlighted once again. It looks as though @Porsche are doing some great work with Mapbox (someone explain to me please, the motorcycle on Mapbox’s header?) … together, they’re developing a new navigation experience, which will emulate all the supposed prestige and performance you’d expect from their cars. That’ll take some doing.

I once owned a pre-power steering 944 with early Recaro seats. It drove like a dog on acid. Plenty of bark, and all kinds of unpredictable bite. Anyway. I digress.

@Mapbox themselves explain what’s going on: “ we’re pulling from lots of the Mapbox platform — the Vision SDK for Augmented Reality Navigation, using Maps SDK for Unity for 3D route previews, Navigation SDK and Maps SDK for directions and sharing your route with others while driving, and Mapbox Studio to design a fully custom look and feel.” – which is all well and good, if you understand that kind of thing, but then comes the kicker: “Mapbox tools let designers and developers get hyper-specific about the attributes and the characteristics of their navigation experience.”

Ostensibly, this all appears to be designer-led, you note. Haven’t mentioned the drivers’ input anywhere. Or the co-drivers’ input, let alone the backseat drivers’ opinions. “We’re collaborating on a project to create a navigation experience that matches the soulfulness, excitement, and sheer joy of driving,” says Mapbox. And that’s marvellous, except …

I wasn’t always soulful, excited, or full of joy when I was driving my Porsche. I don’t choose to be happy, every time I drive a car. I see irate car-drivers, regularly, and no, they’re not being irate at me – not all of them, anyway. To my mind, some drivers just want to know where they’re bloody going: the ‘fluff’ around navigation systems can – and does – get in the way.

Back in the day, I remember doing an early sat-nav test for a car magazine (of which, she says, preening slightly, I used to be the editor many moons ago). Five sat-navs, all manually-programmed with the same destination, all sitting next to me on the passenger seat: this was way before built-in systems became de rigueur. Made for an interesting drive, I can tell you. ANYway – then, @JeniT popped up on Twitter, just after@LaylaG0rd0n. Jeni’s point hammers the balance-nail home rather neatly:

Good questions: Who needs the data? How do they use it? Whenever we’re revelling in the possibilities for GIS, and the improvements that geospatial solutions of all kinds might bring for people’s lives, we’d do well to bear this in mind: people’s lives change. People’s requirements change. People’s behaviours change.

Getting the right data is paramount, and knowing how to use and deliver it is important, but people do have a nasty habit of changing their behaviours, opinions, and minds all the time. I like doing this. I like driving my car, and I like changing my mind. I might not like the interface that a Porsche design team has chosen for me – the ‘generic’ customer. (I’m speaking metaphorically now. The beaten up Mark III Hi-Lux is good, but it’s no Porsche.)

It behoves us to remember that the best applications, information-hubs, devices, and systems for enhancing our lives are usually the ones that focus on people’s changing needs first in the design process – not the developers’ new ideas, the programmers’ capabilities, or the engineers’ latest whim and fancy. User-centred design, I think they call it. Anything else, is criminal.

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