Authored by Lilly Madigan, UX Research Lead at Geosite
There's gotta be a better way. This sentiment comes from consumers and producers of geospatial data who want to expand access to new markets and technologies intentionally. Producers of geospatial data are those who capture remote sensing data or model analytics. Consumers are those who use geospatial data to analyze threats, measure climate change, and predict hazards. Both parties are integral to a fundamental shift happening in the geospatial industry. We’re now beginning to wonder about how many people can benefit from easy access to geospatial data, rather than what this new technology can do. This shifts the audience of the tools through which geospatial data is accessed, the purpose it serves, and the human experience while using those tools.
For decades, geospatial technology was so complex and costly that it was unattainable for non-experts, or was boiled down to only achieving everyday use cases like mapping a run or getting directions, while barely scratching the surface of its potential for business operations. Now, cutting edge software, like Geosite’s platform, can meet both producers and consumers’ needs in this middle space, where business processes can be optimized with accessible geospatial data. Geosite CEO, Rachel Olney, calls this the geospatial economy in her recent Forbes article. Three trends emerge as the geospatial economy develops, market signals grow, and the best practices of human-centered design (HCD) are applied to geospatial technology development.
1. Market demand for geospatial data is growing. Traditionally risk averse industries, like insurance, now recognize the value of using geospatial data in their business operations. At the same time, drone programs, remote sensing, and aerial imagery coverage is expanding to new areas and more easily accessible. Business transformation teams are asking: “How do I make the most of all these new data sources because I know there’s got to be a better way.” This demand however, does not match the current products in the market due in part to a lack of HCD.
The goal of HCD is to develop products and services that meet people’s needs, by engaging with the real people who will use them. This method reduces wasted time and effort by development teams, and increases adoption of new products and services by target audiences. As a result of the aforementioned industry shift, design teams at Geosite talk to and observe non-GIS experts in new markets, listen to their needs and challenges, come up with designs to meet them, and test those solutions with real users. Geosite’s team of geospatial experts use these insights to identify the root problem and provide observable data that fits a new market’s unique need.
Geosite’s platform reflects HCD best practices enabling the use of geospatial data to drive business decisions and operate more efficiently.
2. Geospatial tools will be optimized for quality not quantity. Industry professionals in these new markets do not need to become GIS experts to gain the context necessary for both strategic and tactical decision making; rather, they will be presented with geospatial data and tools in an intuitive way. HCD identifies and tests what intuitive means for people from underwriters and claims adjusters in the insurance industry to operators in defense. Access to geospatial data from multiple sources helps people make the most informed decisions; however, software tools that do not meet the users’ needs in new markets actually gatekeep valuable information from use in critical decision making. This is evidenced by tools that are expensive to obtain, take a long time to learn, and are more complex than necessary. Traditional tools might provide 30 ways to draw a polygon, create a map overlay, and export a csv, but it's unnecessary when user groups in new markets only need 3-4 ways. As new software is developed to make this data more accessible, we will see more companies across a variety of industries using geospatial information to derive actionable insights.
3. Geospatial content strategy empowers business operations. With products that put users at the center, non-geospatial experts are able to readily leverage spatial data into their operations. HCD methods like journey mapping provide insights to development teams that identify the right pieces of information to provide users at the right time. Paired with a thoughtful content strategy that delivers complex concepts in plain language, users understand the uses and limitations of each piece of data, at the time it matters most in their workflow. For industries like insurance, the goal is not to access the coolest basemap — the goal is to close a claim and cut a check to a policyholder, enabling improved customer satisfaction and retention. By putting these teams at the center stage, product capabilities shift to support their needs.
Building geospatial products for non-GIS experts is not an insurmountable challenge. But it does require thoughtful user research. For designers, it comes from a place of empathy, problem solving, creativity and not accepting the status quo in any industry or any piece of technology. At Geosite, we are working to change lives with access to geospatial data. Now, the question becomes: How are we applying these HCD best practices to make a difference in the world, to make our life's work matter?