Is design of the Flex map interface art of science? How about those pop ups; draw, print, buffer? Do you allow all to be opened at once, just one as an active component? Is the fact that the pop ups overlap an annoyance? Do unmoveable icons drive you crackers? How configurable are the interface elements; hide tools, icon type, colour? We will tackle some of these issues here

A Flex Map Interface for All Spatial Servers

After 12 years of building web mapping applications, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. It is rare to find well thought through web map interfaces. Often built using pre-built templates. They are often annoying, unintuitive and hard to use.

Here we will step back and take another look at building the perfect Flex map interface:

Flex Map Interface – Guiding Principals

Let’s lay out a few guiding principals:

1) Make things highly configurable without needing to recompile the application. So text, logos, colours and fonts. Even setting visibility of tools.
2) Maximise map space. The map is the focus of the application. Don’t treat it as a secondary element. Make it big, front and centre!
3) Clients want the site to be cool. Its Flex after all. Careful here, Flex is much more than animation. But some cool effects – glow, animation, fade etc – make the site memorable and clients very happy.
4) Make tools easy to find. Don’t bury them in drop down lists.
5) Tool button icons can be horribly confusing. Add a tooltip or label to help users quickly recognise which icon relates to which tool.
6) Tools which involve clicks on the map – buffer, measure, identify etc – need to be set such that only on is active at any one time.
7) Pop ups. Only the layer list and one other pop up should be open at any one time.
8) Make pop ups able to be simply close, minimised and moved within the confines of the application. Let me qualify this last piece. Sometimes, I have seen pop ups able to be moved beyond the window, so they are partly hidden or obscure surrounding panels.

In the second part of this article, I will walk through a Flex application which adheres to these principals. It is also built programmatically in a modular manner and is built around a Model-View-Controller or MVC.

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