Show Me What You’re Talking About

So it’s been a little snowy this winter in the Mid-Atlantic States. (Understatement of the year, thus far.) One of the major lessons we’ve learned this winter is that snow, in a time, place and amount that is unexpected or unusual equals disaster. One only needs to look at Atlanta’s response to their recent snowfall to see what I mean.

Here in Philly, we’re pretty good at snow even though there was a ton of it this year. We’ve got snowplows and snow emergency routes and a well-oiled social media response (including the phenomenal #NoSavesies Twitter effort). One part of the response is always to make sure that people don’t park on snow emergency routes, which are primary arterials that are plowed clean first to allow for emergency response vehicles to get through.

During every snow emergency, City and quasi-City agencies remind folks to get off those streets:

Which is a great way to get folks attention. Here’s the direct link (since the one there seems to be broken). But, for those of you who won’t click through, this is what that page looks like:

street list

And it goes on and on and on like that. How helpful is that? I’d argue not very.

On the other hand, some City agencies tweeted this out:

For those of you who won’t click through, it’s a PDF map of Philadelphia with the snow emergency routes highlighted:


Which is MUCH easier to navigate and understand. If you’re parked on a red line, move your car. But couldn’t it be better? Zoomable? More Google Maps-ish? I wonder.

And that really brings me to the crux of the matter. How much of the documentation does your agency produce look like the first picture? Sure, there’s probably some clip-art or stock photos usually, but is it really that different? Couldn’t we make it a bit more friendly, readable, understandable? For most of our content, I imagine we could. Philly is working on that, as you can see in the map image. Kudos there, honestly.

But think ahead. Is a PDF map the absolute best way to go? Probably not, what with the huge rise in mobile internet browsing (especially among urban minorities). PDFs rarely render well on a phone, and even if they did, how much do you have to scroll around to find where you are? How much pinch-and-zooming in heavy winter gloves do you have to do?

Improvement is one thing. Getting up to readable is essential. But thinking about usability (both how usable something is and how people will actually use it) and the future of how information is presented will do wonders for your agency. Isn’t it time you were the leader in some field?