The MapLayr team talks design principles, branding, and customer collaboration

Great digital map design means finding just the right balance of creativity and utility, and that’s especially true for location-based businesses. While road map designers can lean into simplicity, businesses in the experience economy, like theme parks, resorts and event venues, need to pay special attention to branding and a more granular level of detail to optimise the guest experience.
Ellen Wilkinson
May 2024

To get a better grasp on what makes an excellent map, we sat down with the MapLayr team. MapLayr is the wayfinding engine that powers’s mobile mapping experience, and it’s available as a map design software development kit to integrate with any mobile app. Here, our Digital Map Illustrator, Owen Malcolm, Head of Customer Success, Jacob Thompson and Head of Delivery, Shane Hunt, share best practices, explore the balance between artistic expression and navigational clarity, and discuss how MapLayr can help location-based businesses reinforce brand identity.

Q: What’s your personal design philosophy when it comes to creating digital maps?

Owen: My design philosophy when approaching digital maps and maps for attractions is to focus on the user and their experience. It’s about how they're going to interact with the product and how they're going to perceive the company through the map itself. Obviously, we have a big focus on navigation and drawing things to scale, but I also like to enhance the storytelling with artistic flair and make things that much more immersive.

Jacob: The brands we work with are so iconic, and being able to express that brand through a map is incredibly important. Features like nighttime maps, where the map gets dark and the lights come on, are going to immerse the guest in the experience further. It's all about finding that fine balance between the physical and the digital experience and making sure that they complement one another. 

Shane: The most important thing for me is finding the balance between the customer’s brand and our top-down perspective so that all the tech and functionality work perfectly while the brand is still easily recognisable. mobile app illustrations for visitor attractions

Q: What special considerations are there to designing maps for location-based businesses like attractions, resorts and live events, as opposed to roadmaps or other types of venues?

Owen: With maps for roads or subways, a lot of them are an abstraction, and they focus on distance perception or making things fit into a smaller footprint, whereas we have a big need to design things to scale. When you've got attraction maps with huge roller coasters, we need to make those features look as they do in real life. Obviously, these maps are used on-site in front of these attractions a lot of the time, so being able to recognise those things is really important.

Jacob: The main thing for me is functionality with software for map design. When you’re driving along the road, you only need to consider the next turn. With a smaller location-based entertainment venue, the level of detail around wayfinding needs to be much more granular–go up steps, turn around on yourself, and so on. We need to include things like plants and features on buildings so that users can look around and make decisions on where to go.

Q: Can you share some best practices for designing compelling and functional maps for location-based businesses that balance artistic expression with utility?

Owen: Utilising brand guidelines is a big one, making sure that colour schemes are consistent and making sure that we include landmarks on site and shadows so they look true to life. There is space for maps to be artwork, but the ability to communicate with the map is the essential part.

Another best practice is breaking down the maps. Approaching a huge park with many features can be quite overwhelming, so breaking tasks down into little, manageable chunks helps keep the experience joyful.

The Jockey Club branded app experience

Q: How can businesses incorporate custom branding into their maps to create user-friendly navigation experiences?

Jacob: That’s where a tool like MapLayr comes into play. It lets us ingest all of a location's physical dynamics and all of a brand’s assets. Then, we can start stylising a map and incorporate branding into the overall experience.

Shane: Here’s an example to bring Jacob's point to life: One of the challenges when we look at the tops of buildings is that you often see a plain roof with a load of air conditioning units on. So we have to take the face of that building and incorporate the brand. We try to weave brand touchpoints into these small elements so that when someone's looking at the map, and they see a roof, it has the same brick style and colour palette as the front. It feels familiar. 

Q: How can businesses use MapLayr to create maps that are both aesthetically pleasing and clear in terms of navigation capabilities?

Jacob: One of our strengths as a tech business is that we have an in-house team of designers, and we build to delight through design. The combination of our technical expertise in a very specific area of location-based wayfinding and map design software, along with the best quality design experience, is ultimately what gives us our level-up against other options. 

Shane: When we're structuring these routes, I find that it's better to have a team leader who knows every nook and cranny of that site rather than some senior director, and it gives an opportunity for a wide range of roles to get involved in the project. Having that real on-the-ground local knowledge means that the functionality will work even better, and that's quite a nice thing about the approach we run.

Q: Tell me a bit about MapLayr’s annotations and camera controls and why these features are important to engaging map design.

Owen: Everyone has used so many different apps that have maps, and the ability to rotate and orient yourself on a map is so intuitive to how we use digital devices now. I've touched on a few maps from other third-party companies that don't have these sort of camera controls, and I feel like I'm being restricted. Using our camera controls to navigate, to see down the alleyways of different parts of the park that are designed to have a line of sight to certain attractions, is such a freeing feature of the map design software.

Jacob: As for our annotations, this is where it really comes down to the granularity of the wayfinding experience. On a highway, you have exits, you have service stations, and that’s really it. At a location-based entertainment venue, you could have restrooms, food outlets, bars, activities and games to layer on your map.

One of the things that we have done well with our software for map design is not only provide the ability to add annotations to the map but to cluster those together and dynamically expose them to the user. So, if a user is zoomed out, the map doesn’t show every individual point of interest because it'd just be a huge splodge of markers on a map. Instead, we have area labels at that level of granularity to provide the general context. The closer they zoom in, the more detail guests see, with points clustered together so they don't take up too much real estate on the screen. You get very specific views according to where you are.

Q: What can operators do to set you, as map creators, up for success?

Jacob: Trusting us as partners is a big one. Lean into our expertise, and don’t try to do it on your own because we’re here to help. Also important is being on the ground to support us, particularly once we have a first draft. It gives us a much more accurate feedback loop if you're actually there at the venue, wayfinding and navigating your way around the experience. That's critical to helping us iterate as quickly as possible.

Shane: Also, just be honest. If you have a vision of where you want to take this, then we will absolutely align and meet with that vision. We want to be on that train with you. And if you think what we've done isn't going in the right way, let's talk about it. 

Owen: It's a collaboration at the end of the day.

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Ellen Wilkinson

Head of Marketing
May 2024
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