Fast Company - - Innovation By Design -

If “Tin­der,you you’d heard­but prob­a­bly­for an hu­man­i­tar­i­anapp think de­scribedyou wer­ere­lief,”as watch­ing an episode of HBO’S satir­i­cal TV se­ries Sil­i­con Val­ley. But Mapswipe—a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort by Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders (Médecins Sans Fron­tières), the Amer­i­can Red Cross, and other non­prof­its—was pitched in just that way to Sadok Cer­vantes, the app’s lead prod­uct de­signer, by de­vel­op­ers at MSF in March 2016. “My ini­tial re­ac­tion was, ‘Not another app aboard the hype train, please!’ ” re­calls Cer­vantes, whose free­lance de­sign prac­tice caters to hu­man­i­tar­ian causes. “But I knew their in­ten­tions were in the right place—they wanted the app to be easy, ac­ces­si­ble, and us­able by ev­ery­one. The swi­peable-card in­ter­face def­i­nitely checks all three of those.”

MSF’S de­vel­oper team had thought that the Tin­der model would be the best ap­proach for ad­dress­ing the prob­lem of lo­cat­ing peo­ple in re­mote and largely un­mapped re­gions when dis­as­ter strikes. In or­der to con­tain dis­ease out­breaks—such as the 2015 measles epi­demic in Congo—aid or­ga­ni­za­tions must vac­ci­nate ev­ery­one in the af­fected area as quickly as pos­si­ble. But pin­point­ing where peo­ple ac­tu­ally live in the lo­ca­tions most vul­ner­a­ble to the kinds of med­i­cal emer­gen­cies, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, and hu­man­i­tar­ian crises that MSF and Red Cross tackle, and fig­ur­ing out how to reach them, isn’t as sim­ple as fir­ing up Google Maps. Ba­sic in­for­ma­tion about pop­u­la­tion cen­ters and road net­works of­ten doesn’t ex­ist at all, so aid work­ers have to cre­ate ad hoc maps from satel­lite im­agery—a lengthy and te­dious process when time equals lives saved (or lost). The con­cept be­hind


Mapswipe: Crowd­source this work by parcel­ing out small sec­tions of raw satel­lite im­agery to the smart­phones of peo­ple any­where in the world and have them iden­tify dwellings and thor­ough­fares. Users can select one of sev­eral map­ping “mis­sions” to un­der­take, such as “Botswana Malaria Con­trol” or “Dis­ease elim­i­na­tion on Bi­ja­gos is­lands”; the app then shows a small chunk of the satel­lite view that’s di­vided by a grid into six tiles. From there, users fol­low sim­ple in­struc­tions like “iden­tify build­ings” or “look for huts” by se­lect­ing any tiles that con­tain those fea­tures. The app pro­vides a handy tu­to­rial for rec­og­niz­ing them: build­ings and huts, for ex­am­ple, ap­pear con­spic­u­ously geo­met­ric in satel­lite im­agery, which helps them stand out from the nat­u­ral land­scape. Once a vol­un­teer is done in­spect­ing the im­age, she moves onto another one need­ing her at­ten­tion.

The app pro­vides a first pass on the raw satel­lite im­agery and makes NGOS’ and aid or­ga­ni­za­tions’ of­fi­cial map­ping ef­forts more ef­fi­cient. It also de­liv­ers a sig­nif­i­cant dose of do-gooder pride to first-world users, who can ac­cu­rately claim to be help­ing save lives merely by pok­ing at pho­tos on their phones. (Beat that, In­sta­gram!) To max­i­mize Mapswipe’s ap­peal to these ca­sual users, the de­vel­op­ers orig­i­nally wanted Cer­vantes to clone Tin­der’s in­ter­face, which is how it got its name. But some­thing about that ap­proach seemed off to the de­signer. “I said, ‘I know you want young peo­ple to use it. You want as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to use it. But in this case, it will not work.’ ”

Cer­vantes, whose de­sign port­fo­lio in­cludes projects for the MIT Me­dia Lab and Lufthansa, cited the re­search of us­abil­ity ex­pert Don Nor­man in ar­gu­ing that a “swipe right” in­ter­face—while light­weight and fun when ap­plied to on­line dat­ing—would ac­tu­ally cre­ate more work for users al­ready be­ing asked to do some­thing re­quir­ing real con­cen­tra­tion (i.e., ex­am­in­ing blurry satel­lite pho­tos). “The mo­ment you swipe some­thing away, it’s off your radar,” Cer­vantes ex­plains. “If you then bring it back again and ask some­one to take a closer look, it in­creases your cog­ni­tive load”—nor­man’s term for men­tal ef­fort. “We don’t want that, be­cause we don’t want peo­ple to see us­ing this app as a chore.”

Af­ter test­ing sev­eral user-in­ter­face ap­proaches, Cer­vantes ar­rived at a so­lu­tion that pre­served Tin­der’s sim­ple, swipe-based in­ter­ac­tion for nav­i­gat­ing be­tween dif­fer­ent chunks of satel­lite im­agery, but re­moved the con­fus­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing to swipe again on in­di­vid­ual tiles in or­der to la­bel them: Users can mark tiles that con­tain huts, houses, or roads sim­ply by tap­ping them—lit­er­ally “putting fam­i­lies on the map,” as the app’s tagline de­scribes it. Cer­vantes in­tended this UX to com­pete with time­wast­ing games that might al­ready be on some­one’s phone. “We live in an era where many peo­ple feel like they need to be pro­duc­tive all the time,” he ex­plains. “If you start play­ing a game on your phone, you feel guilty. With Mapswipe, you may be pass­ing the time, but that time is spent con­tribut­ing to a greater cause.”

Cer­vantes’s in­sight paid off: Since its re­lease just over a year ago, Mapswipe has ag­gre­gated more than 12 mil­lion taps, map­ping over 420,000 square kilo­me­ters—more than the to­tal area of Ger­many—in places like Myan­mar, Gu­atemala, and sub-sa­ha­ran Africa, whose in­hab­i­tants would oth­er­wise be in­vis­i­ble to med­i­cal aid or­ga­ni­za­tions. (One user bragged to The Guardian that she “man­aged to map 100 square kilo­me­ters of Nige­ria” while watch­ing TV.) Re­cent Mapswipe ini­tia­tives have helped de­liver an­ti­malar­ial sprays to vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents in Laos and as­sisted peo­ple dis­placed by cy­clones that have rav­aged Mada­gas­car. If a par­tic­u­larly nasty dis­as­ter oc­curs, Mapswipe can even send out push no­ti­fi­ca­tions to its roughly 16,000 ac­tive users to rally them around the cause. “It feels like a Batsig­nal,” Cer­vantes says. As op­posed to just reach­ing out on so­cial me­dia af­ter a cri­sis, “you are ac­tu­ally con­tribut­ing to these peo­ple in dis­tress, and that’s a real con­nec­tion.”

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