Designing Geospatial Data Products: Overcoming Challenges for Success
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As of now, there are over 11,000 satellites orbiting the Earth. And we don’t seem to stop there, as there have already been 1,354 objects launched into space in the first half of 2023. So, it’s safe to say that geospatial data and technology are no longer niche sectors but are quite common these days.
While the advantages of using geospatial data are clear, designing geospatial data applications presents many challenges. When creating such products, designers should consider many factors, namely the level of detail, the visualization paradigm, the sophistication of the required demonstration, the data volume, the user's level of knowledge and ability to interact with map data, and so on.
Luckily, you have Eleken to help you out. Our experience of working with geospatial SaaS products, like Involi, Astraea, and Gamaya, allowed us to identify the most common challenges and choose the best UI/UX design practices to overcome them. And we want to share them with you.
Are geospatial data products worth the investment?
In short, yes. Geospatial data has the potential to benefit us all, serving as the basis for strategic decision-making and helping minimize risks in many areas, such as business development, production, strategic issues, risk management, and agriculture. Demand for such data increases day by day. It is expected that this segment market will be worth over $96 billion by 2025.
Venture capital (VC) investments in the geospatial data sector are growing, supporting the appearance of new solutions, tools, and data sources. In 2020, US startups in the geospatial domain raised over $2 billion in VC funding.
According to the Geospatial Industry Advancing Sustainable Development Goals report, the societal impact is expected to be more important and valuable than the economic impact. The table below shows that emerging geospatial technologies have already improved resource efficiency and productivity, creating a high-value impact on economies and raising billions of dollars across the world.
Sure, companies that invest in developing geospatial data products gain a competitive advantage. However, designing these solutions is not something that can be approached by junior designers, and here’s why.
Why are geospatial data products difficult to design?
Geospatial data applications deal with complex data types, such as satellite imagery, aerial photographs, terrain models, topographic maps, and various spatial datasets. These data can be static (the location of a piece of equipment or earthquake event) and dynamic (a moving vehicle or the spread of an infectious disease).
For most startups, developing data-heavy geospatial data apps is a tough nut to crack. They need to make this data organized and user-friendly for non-experts, which is complex and challenging by default. What's more, it takes a lot of time and effort to assemble imagery and visualize geospatial data in an intuitive and visually appealing manner. That's why, having experienced designers and developers on board is a must for geospatial data solutions.
Now, onto the challenges.
Visualization and user experience challenges
Here are some of the challenges we personally encountered while designing geospatial data products and ways to overcome them.
- Showing data from different sources
Satellite data and drone imagery are becoming increasingly popular in many industries, from engineering to agriculture. Still, it is not so easy to analyze different photos from various sources and glue them together in the right order. And we just can’t help mentioning our project, Gamaya, as an example here.
Gamaya is an AI-powered SaaS platform that collects agricultural data from NASA remote sensing satellite data and drone images and gives its customers knowledge about their crops. To let users see data from multiple data sources, Eleken designers organized the platform's components into layers.
The drone images, combined with red highlights on the map, allow users to see planting gaps:
Apart from images, another data visualization option is to organize data into tables. They help users view and track information across different fields and locations.
- Visualizing layers and objects
When designing maps, it is critical to distinguish each layer visually from others. This helps users understand what types of data are presented as well as simplifies navigation. To achieve this goal, Eleken designers use different colors, line styles, and patterns.
For example, our team needed to display solar panel installations and wind turbine locations for Greenventory, an energy solution for calculating necessary energy resource placement and generating reports. Our designers used one distinct color for solar panels and another for wind turbines. This clear color distinction helped users recognize and differentiate various types of data.
To let users switch between different layers and turn them on/off, we also implemented the toggle buttons on the right. And to prevent layers from overlapping, our team offered opacity and transparency settings.
Another critical aspect to consider is choosing the right color palettes and themes for geospatial products. For this type of solutions, colors become a language that carries the information value. Users associate most phenomena with particular colors unconsciously and expect them to be connected with a specific color, namely blue for everything related to water, brown for mountains, green for nature, red for potentially dangerous actions, and so on.
Knowing the basics of colors used in cartography and spatial data visualization would be a great plus as well. Our UI/UX designer Alex also notes that all colors should work with every mode or type of the base map: light and dark, flat and satellite. Each mode, in turn, presents unique challenges. This means that colors that work well in one mode might not be as effective in another one. To avoid overloading the user visually and mentally, there should be visual boundaries that have sufficient contrast with the adjacent background.
- Simplifying the search process
It’s typical that geospatial data app users have to manage large amounts of information, which might lead to information overload. For example, Astraea, a geospatial SaaS startup, allows its users to acquire, discover, and analyze satellite data at scale. But at first, it was hard for users to work with so much data at once. To overcome this challenge, our designers categorized the navigation menu. Each category is located behind an icon on the right side of the screen. For searching and information sorting, we added filters at the right.
- Taking a lot of time and effort to create complex components
As your user base grows, the development costs, as well as app complexity, may rise. Yet, if developers write code in components, they can add or reuse existing components for new technologies, which helps reduce development time and improve the ROI.
Many apps today are created on React, a popular front-end library. Developers opt for React, as its reusable components help them reduce software development time dramatically. For example, while working with Gamaya’s team, Eleken designers offered to use Ant Design, a ready-made React UI library, and adapted the platform’s design to this library. As a result, our clients could reuse materials from the library and build new products faster, saving time, costs, and resources.
- Overlapping and details representation when zooming in and out
Users often zoom in or out to see maps at various scales. The challenge here lies in the map's ability to dynamically adjust the zoom level based on different factors like screen size or user preferences. Let’s look at Greenventory once again. Our designer created a progressive loading mechanism when essential data points load initially, and additional points load as the user zooms in. In this case, the app displays only relevant data loaded at each zoom level. There is no unnecessary data overload, and, as a result, the loading speed is increasing.
Another Eleken project to highlight here is ReVeal, a solution for analyzing data for real estate. The app users have to browse a map with many objects to find out how regularly people visit a shop, whether the rental location is favorable, and so on. Such actions affect the app speed.
To optimize the design and improve the application performance, our designers offered to group the objects on the maps. When users zoom out to see the whole map of the chosen city, the number of spots on the map is limited to neighborhoods. Users can view all objects at this location by clicking or hovering on the group spot.
Designing geospatial products isn’t a walk in the park. To advance the use of geospatial technologies and accelerate geospatial innovation, startups should collaborate with design experts. Bringing the UI/UX designer on board early will provide a solid foundation for future growth, making the solution easy to use and understand, as well as scalable, effective, and accessible.
Not every designer has enough expertise and in-demand niche skills for designing such data-heavy products. But we do. Our team has extensive experience in designing interfaces that manage imagery data and provide a logical and intuitive flow for users.
It is unusual to find a designer who has experience building applications with geospatial data - especially imagery data. We found that in Eleken.
Jamie Conklin, VP of Product at Astraea
Contact us, and we will provide you with the best expert for the project, no matter how complex and data-intensive it is.