A Better Location-Based Visualization

"Honestly the hardest thing about GIS is visualization of data." – James Fee

The Thematic Mapping Problem

We have all created, viewed or made a decision using a basic thematic map – a printed map, a digital map displayed in an intranet application, or a map within a Business Intelligence tool – however the basic elements are the same. Locations are placed, stylized and sized on a map to convey where and how much. Unfortunately these thematic maps can range in quality and utility from “Pretty but not actionable” to “confusing mess”. There must be a better way of visualizing information and making it actionable.

What gets in the way of a point map being informative and actionable?

Points sit on top of points at the same location, you don’t know what or how much is at any given point.Stylizing points to convey information can be challenging (“Is that point bright red or light red? Would it help if I stylized with stars and diamonds?”)Points can convey a sense of location but to take action another spatial layer (a Census Block, a custom polygon) must be brought in to aggregate data to a useful level.Points help you visualize the locations that you know, however they don’t show you context – the non-geocoded points, the locations that you aren’t tracking, the locations of your non-customers.

Changing the stylization or the type of map rarely solves these three problems. For example, changing the map from a color-based theme to a size-based theme doesn’t magically make a map more informative and intuitive. You can do any number of things to this map – enhance with satellite imagery, change the colors, enhance the styles – but you won’t overcome the fact that getting actionable intelligence out of a georeferenced point map is hard.

Building Footprints for Data Visualization

At BuildingFootprintUSA™, we know that our building footprint data gives you the most accurate spatial decision making. For example insurance companies can get the most accurate picture when analyzing flood risk.

We also know that visualizing your spatial data with building footprints solves the major challenges with displaying location information. It is an easy three step process:

Join your address list with building footprints. Every BuildingFootprintUSA™ record comes with primary and secondary address information that you can use to join with your data. A building footprint record for a single family house will have an address like 130 Elm Ave, 12180-1234; a building footprint for a mixed use building will have multiple addresses such as 240 15th St, Apt 1, Apt 2 and Suite 300 and corresponding ZIP+4 information.

Aggregate or create a metric based on the join. For example, if every record in your database lists a number of service calls you could aggregate or average that data by building. Create complex metrics at the building level by joining with real property, business list or other data.

Display your data with a theme. In this example we are using the same data as the maps above – service calls by address – and we have aggregated the data by building.

Using building footprint data for analysis and data visualization solves the major problems with thematic maps. You don’t have overlapping or stacked points, the building provide an appropriate unit of aggregation, and you can see additional locations for context – all of the buildings where you don’t have customers. Great location analytics should suggest the next actions or steps; you can look at these maps and envision what to do next (find out what’s going on with those multi-unit buildings at the top of the map!). All of this is possible within desktop GIS applications, intranet mapping applications or mapping using BI tools.

At BuildingFootprintUSA™ we are building out the next innovative dataset for Location Intelligence. Whether you want the accuracy of building footprint data for your spatial analysis, or you want to enhance the data visualization that drives your business decision making, drop us a note to ask about our solution – or reach out via our contact page.