The focal point pattern highlights the center of interest or activity and assists the user in finding the important piece of information quickly.
Harmony in design can be attributed to the gestalt theory, a set of design principles that describes how humans perceive groups of objects. At its core, gestalt theory states that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. If applied correctly, then we as humans will see a map of a city and not its individual parts, such as buildings or streets, and that’s desired because it would otherwise lead to cognitive overload. On the flip side, there is nothing natural, special, or relevant in a map that stands out and draws our attention unless it is something that’s being highlighted.
Adding a focal point to highlight a feature on the map takes out the guessing game and relieves its users of searching for the needle in the haystack. It is an element that adds emphasis to a point of interest or activity with the intent of drawing the viewer’s attention.
Probably the most common use of a focal point is adding a marker to the map to show the location of the place after a search. Another common use is for navigation apps to show two focal points that indicate the start and end points of the route. Emergency apps or media outlets use a focal point to highlight the epicenter of an event such as a plane crash or an earthquake.
The goal of the focal point pattern is to visually emphasize a feature on the map to draw the user’s attention. This feature is typically a point (city, land-mark), line (river, highway), or polygon (state, country) that is well known and easily recognizable. It might also be the result of a prior task the user has performed, such as search or feature selection.
There are three types of focal points:
- Markers added to the map that stand out through their position (map is centered on the marker), their size (bigger than the surrounding features), their shape (using an unusual shape such as a star), or their color (a high-contrast shape that is clearly different from its background)
- Features of the map that have effects applied to them, such as drop shadows, glowing edges, or animation effects
- Masks that hide irrelevant features
When working in real time or in near-real-time environments, the focal point is usually an animated marker such as a pulsating dot or moving shape. The animation indicates that the location is updated frequently and can change anytime.
Geo-Referenced Infrastructure and Demographic Data for Development (GRID3) is a nonprofit program funded by Columbia University that helps countries create and use geospatial data on population, settlements, infrastructure, and boundaries. GRID3’s Data Explorer tool makes it easier to choose the most appropriate geospatial dataset for practical applications in sub-Saharan Africa. When a user selects a country, such as Zimbabwe, they can explore all available datasets sorted by data theme. The user then can compare metadata across data sources, visualize datasets through interactive web maps, and download datasets from the distributor.