Thanks to Mor Namaan, I came across an interesting blog post by Justin O’Beirne that analyzed the graphic design of several different maps — Google, Bing, and Yahoo — to show why Google maps tend appear easier to read and to use. The gist of the analysis is that legibility is improved through a number of graphical techniques that in combination produce a significant visual effect.
And of course knowing Google, this stuff was tested and tested and tested to get the right margins around text, the right gray scale for the labels, the right label density, etc.
So why did Justin have to reverse-engineer this work to understand it?
Why isn’t this sort of stuff published — either in academic papers or on the official Google Blog — so that others can learn from it? This stuff isn’t a trade secret. A careful analysis by someone trained in graphic design (like Justin) uncovered the differences in a relatively short time. If any of it is patented (which I doubt) then it’s disclosed and protected already. So why not offer this, and thousands of other small details that Google has perfected in its interfaces, to the community?
While one can be amused and amazed by a magician, the effect is typically transient. The lessons imparted by a good teacher, however, not only last a lifetime, but can be passed onto others as well.