Effective GIS Visual Information Use

When converting data into visual communications, the essential first step is clearly understanding what information the client needs to understand.

For example, when Caltrans and San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) asked for an updated phasing plan for a major transportation project along coastal Interstate-5 in North San Diego County, Dudek’s project manager and GIS specialists teamed to effectively boil down 62 pages of detailed engineering drawings into a handful of high-level visual images.

The North Coast Corridor project is a multi-agency program involving six jurisdictions with projects phased in over a 40 year schedule. The project also involves improvements to the Los Angeles-to-San Diego rail line running parallel to Interstate-5.

Dudek’s GIS specialist Kirsten Zecher said the clients wanted to provide decision makers with a high-level project overview visual that put all the moving pieces into context. “They didn’t need to see the nitty-gritty details of the engineering drawings.”

To accomplish this, Zecher and her team packaged information into three categories – time, funding status, and project type – so viewers would focus on the cornerstone elements of the project.

With the information elements identified, the team then developed two visual elements: a “visual hierarchy” and a detailed but simple legend. Getting these elements right help viewers easily identify projects by time, funding status and project type as well as inter-relationships between projects.

“A visual hierarchy uses colors, font sizes, labels, icons, and placement to help prioritize and differentiate content for the viewer,” Zecher said. “When visual hierarchy and the legend are done correctly, viewers think about the substance of the information rather than the methodology of how the chart is designed or produced.”

Effective Visual Information Shows Multiple Stages of a Major Transportation Project (click to enlarge)