I always was fascinated by mental maps, the idea to ask a person to draw a map from memory, to get an insight of the person’s perception of the world. In my ongoing Design Interactions master we were invited to do a community related project with the local residents of Vauxhall (inner city area of South London), so finally I had a chance to engage myself in this concept.
Furthermore, I was wondering whether it is possible to go with the mental map concept one step further. My idea was not only to collect mental maps of Vauxhall, but also to combine these mental maps with real world map data to “interpolate”, or in a way, to fill the white spots of the mental maps with data of the realities. I was hoping to gain with these mashup maps new insights in terms how people “see” Vauxhall e.g.: how is the space order around them? are there things they would like to change? what is important for them? etc. Or to put it in other, more beautiful words and quote the excerpt or the book You Are Here by Katharine Harmon:
Mapmaking fulfills one of our most ancient and deep-seated desires: understanding the world around us and our place in it.
In the end the maps didn’t answer all questions I raised at the beginning, but after studying the maps more carefully I really appreciated the fact they look very ambivalent and “real”, which is nice because this reflects that a mental map is also some form of reality (at least of the person who drew it).
But of course you can see in the last map the limitation of the whole idea, if the delta between a mental and real map is too big, the result becomes too complex and is no longer readable. I have the feeling, that this method seems to be a nice starting point to put oneself in the position/world of participants, especially on similar macroscopic levels.