The System Visualization Platform

After many years of producing mostly static graphics – using the venerable technologies of printed maps and sticky notes, presentations and PDFs – we finally had to concede that to build the maps we dreamed of building, and to engage the critical mass of change-makers we’d like to reach, we needed better technology.

After 3 years of design and development, we’re very excited to be launching our new systems visualization platform this Spring. The first version will deliver many of design goals we set:

  • Make the system maps accessible and interactively explorable via that latest web technologies.
  • Provide a multimedia platform that seamlessly integrates text, diagrams, graphs, photographs, audio, video, and animations.
  • Support a hierarchical, expandable/collapsable, map structure – that reflects the system’s nested structure.
  • Link the map elements to a database of text descriptions, web-links, and other data.
  • Provide basic groupware / crowd-sourcing / survey support; allowing online users to provide information, submit comments, suggest changes, etc.
  • Be uncompromising in the degree of visual control and sophistication (to that end it leverages the fantastic Adobe suite of graphic tools).
  • Support both human-driven drawing & ideation as well as data-driven graphics.
  • Streamline map-building by providing an ever expanding library of modular / re-useable elements.

Why a ‘Platform’ ?

We deliberately use the term system visualization ‘platform’ rather than ‘software’ because what we’re looking to build is broader than a single software application. The platform is designed to support:

  • An Atlas - going beyond the creation of separate unconnected maps, to the creation of a interconnected library of maps that can be freely explored.
  • Continuous Improvement - instead of maps being fixed at a particular time and state of development, they should be continuously improved and expanded, moved forward by the input and ideas of many different users.
  • A Standardized Visual Language - the library continuously-evolving visual elements comprises a kind of semi-standardized visual language that makes the maps easier to draw, as well as making them easier to read, because they will (roughly) be using the same visual grammar.
  • An Evolving Database - the database of information connected to the visual elements will also be continuously improved, expanded, and re-used across different maps.
  • A Set of Tools - a flexible set of software tools and techniques, rather than a single monolithic application, that enables the production and maintenance the most sophisticated maps possible.