The goal was to create a tool for discovery rather than display. Olivia and Tania sought to answer this question: How might you get people to surprise themselves, find new connections and make new meaning out of what they have.
“We wanted this exercise to be a chance for students to reflect on skill sets they’ve developed up to this point and also an opportunity for students to gain clarity around what skills they want to further develop moving forward," said Tania via e-mail. "We hoped this would help them plan their next quarter and remainder of time at Stanford with intent.”
The 23-year old designers and former classmates toyed with a string map before settling on a topographical one. They also decided to give everyone the same starting map (above). The goal was to have a static representation of a dynamic system with the finished product being a snapshot of an individual’s experience.
In terms of the map itself. There was some debate as to whether the map should be two dimensions or three. They settled on a two-dimensional map representing three dimensions.
Olivia was excited by the idea of a physical, 3-dimensional map with fully-realized peaks, valleys and fault lines. But she recognized that raising the resolution of the map introduced a tension. On the one hand, a higher-resolution map could give someone greater creative agency and grow their creative confidence. Then again, it could also leave someone feeling disappointed if they failed to have their grand vision well-articulated.
That said, Olivia and Tania were surprised at how inclined participants were to be visual and less verbal on their maps. The team expected people to write more, instead they drew more. The duo was surprised by how easy it seemed to be for participants to fill in the fault lines.
"Usually it is difficult for people to admit and articulate weaknesses and insecurities," said Olivia, "I think there was something in the framing of it instead as "tension" that was important."
When asked what they would change, Olivia turned to the map’s peaks and valleys. “There were so many valid ways to interpret this metaphor," she said, "but then you also have to pick at some point.”
There was also the question of how detailed of an example they should give. “We would have liked to give them a more specific example of a peak and a valley that was more story-based and narrative-based."
If you are interested in conducting a similar exercise with your students, community or organization. Here’s Olivia’s recommendation: “Push yourself to make meaning out of the opportunities of the metaphor. ... Give yourself the opportunity to go there.”
Also, don’t feel constrained by the tool provided here. "This is just a baseline,” said Olivia. "My goal is to always try to surprise yourself and let yourself go down the rabbit hole a little bit. ... Don’t just stay on the surface."