A custom made floor plan, why?

A custom made floor plan, why?

“You actually have no idea when entering or exiting the area what the area is like”.The neighborhood police officer’s comment totally surprised me. I took part in a placemaking session in Rijswijk. That is improving a place, by walking around with all those involved and harvesting ideas on the spot. My role was to ‘give the best ideas good text and images’. Delightfully pompous, could easily be put on a tile. For a moment I was very satisfied. Until, in injury time, the neighborhood policeman opened her mouth:
“We don’t even know who the tenants are in this area, sometimes.” And, “this place might just need a floor plan.” Wow.

What? A floor plan?

One of those paper maps with pictures of pizzeria’s around it. Boring! Everyone has Google Maps on their phone to find a restaurant, right? So why would a city district or business park create its own map anyway? For marketing purposes. Showing what’s there to do.

  1. A map on sign or brochure is welcoming. Visible, readable, approachable. Even if it is digital.
  2. This is not about navigation, it is about overview. ‘What is there to do or see here, approximately?’
  3. A map proves that your area is a whole.
  4. The most important: a floor plan is a carrier of your identity.

Definition: a floor plan is an orderly drawing of a location that raises or adjusts expectations.

Visitors have already seen the place on Google Maps, but conveying the “feel of the place” cannot be done with Google Maps because it is universal, American too. The floor plan is marketing, your first chance to let people know the identity of a place. It’s a communication tool, which like all other corporate identity elements conveys how you want to be seen. Such a floor plan can be cozy, or hip, or sleek, or energetic. Or just very beautiful. That always works wonders with visitors.

What characterizes our place?

You have to decide together what to put on the map, with what emphasis and what details. It must be correct, of course. Real estate people, tenants, municipality and marketing people need to talk to each other about this. Convenient if the floor plan designer is right there. No, not “convenient,” it’s a must. And invite the neighborhood cop too, you now know why.
And what happens when residents, users and administrators see such a floor plan? They say, “that’s our place!”

Our place!


Floor plan for marketing the ArenAPoort area in Amsterdam-Zuidoost. Meant to “show what’s out there,” and that it’s all right nearby. Created as Booqi ( small foldable map for marketing) and web page.


Floor plan of the library of the National Council for Art History Documentation. Note the beautiful sofa in the waiting area and the gender-neutral toilet icons. Details!


Location marketing

A bicycle route along wet Friesland. Map colored in pencil for an educational, warm-blooded effect. (created for IVN Fryslan)

Elaborate floor plan for the Stedelijk Museum, in the very strict corporate style. If you want something beautiful that can be put on the wall.
(Commissioned by Mevis & Van Deursen)

Two from a series of 12 wine region maps. Refined, for the book by sophisticated wine merchant Okhuysen. These kinds of maps have to be hand-drawn, to become specific.



Location marketing

Floor plan of the Villa ArenA shopping mall. The building is rendered, true to the direction of the walkways, not true to reality. This is the only way you can see all the stores and display all the names.


Kind of rustic. Map of Elswout Estate.

Location marketing

Area map for a series of informational signs for a water board. The water should all be on it, the rest be left out except for the landmark places. There may also be layers on top with inundation or drainage areas.

Location marketing

Schematic representation of obstructions in Zaandam, occurring during lock reconstruction. (For BAM via Roel Stavorinus)


Location marketing

Floor plan for Kunstfort Vijfhuizen. Not only does it look military, but it is also easy to multiply using a xerox machine.

Cultural heritage. You don’t see it until you see it

Cultural heritage. You don’t see it until you see it

Most heritage looks like old stuff.
And it is. Until you prove that it is relevant, that it has something to tell us.
Best start by putting future heritage visitors into the right mode, for example by making heritage visible in educational materials for schools. It should contains basic knowledge: once we were at war, Holland has a coast, Germans were afraid and built bunkers. And then you show those bunkers.
The usual way to show stray concrete in the dunes is to add a plate with a number (Aggregate bunker type M183). That’s something like “Still life with pheasant, oil on canvas, 1665” on a museum sign. What do you expect people to do with that?

Get your audience in the right mood in 4 steps

Step 1: reveal the connection with a simple question

All those loose bunkers in the dunes have different roles. You can see those roles when you ask a simple question, such as “there’s an English warship coming, what needs to be done to be able to shoot at it? Then you’ll see binoculars (and a high point), fire control (and thus officers), loaders (crappy job), aiming (technology), ammunition storage (that thick bunker), and lots of concrete (yes, those English shoot back).

Step 2: “…and what else do you need?”

We shot at the ship. That will make you hungry. So close to the bunker complex is also a kitchen, a mess hall, men’s quarters. You have to supply those, that’s why there’s a road.

Step 3: “and what do you have to do for that?”

To pave that road, we pull all the clinkers from the streets of IJmuiden, leaving only sand. And when the soldiers’ food runs out, it is not the soldiers who have to go hungry, but the civilians. To defend the bunkers on the land side, we place cannons. And oh yes, we demolish houses to clear the line of fire, and lay barbed wire and minefields. Living in IJmuiden anno 1943.

Step 4: “and what does that have to do with me?”

Says one student, “I still think it’s stupid, such a lesson about old stuff. It’s nice weather outside, we’d rather go swimming!” Let an 80-year-old IJmuiden resident tell where they went swimming then. In the canal? You couldn’t, there were mines there. In the sea? You couldn’t, on the beach you would get shot. So, straight home from school, through those streets of sand. If your house was still there. With the personal story, you will get the class’ attention.

Now that the class has been warmed up with prior knowledge, the students are ready for a field trip. Because heritage still makes the most impression in real life.

Let’s go!

Projects by Explanation Design (my previous company)

atlantikwallindeklas.nl (interaction design by Ruben Daas, digital stuff by Studio Alloy, style by Manon Den Hartog)
stellingvanamsterdam.nl (interaction design Ruben Daas, digital stuff whizzweb.nl)
mediaspoor.nl (interaction design Ruben Daas, corporate identity Manon Den Hartog)

What to show your audience, in what order? That question must be resolved. Then, like in this digiboard lesson, you still have to figure out what the students should do next. In this case: drag the correct term into the box. For this conversion of knowledge into action, you need specialists, both to conceive it (interaction design, in this case by Ruben Daas) and to get it working technically on all those different devices in schools (done by Alloy, an excellent digital agency)

A look inside Fort Vijfhuizen: the officers and soldiers, where do they sleep, what are they wearing, what hangs over their beds? Clicking on this “school record” will take them to short assignments.


Heritage educational visibility

Digital educational materials should be easy to use, as well as suitable for short and long lessons at different levels. Whether it works, you have to find out in the field.


To reiterate the importance of interaction design, this sketch shows what you need to take a shot at a ship from near IJmuiden.

Heritage educational visibility

This is what the interaction designer makes of it: only after the crew has each been given their tools (a radio, a grenade, a scope) the gun can be fired. Interaction design by Ruben Daas.

Heritage educational visibility

Animation also works well. When the enemy comes we flood the place (left) and remove the structures from the line of fire (right). Each animation in this series follows the same pattern: ‘what do we do when the enemy comes?’ (From: Stellingtour, a game about the Defence Line of Amsterdam)


Heritage educational visibility

From the educational material for the Defence Line of Amsterdam: how much food should you bring into a Fort per week?




Is your scientific work visible enough?

Is your scientific work visible enough?

I can be quite smug about it, I think. Science is a tyrant, wielding intimidating texts and tables. But the two fields I love, – ecology and geology – source their knowledge from a reality you can easily reveal. If one’s task is opening up science, that’s a bonus.
The ground under our feet has been laid down over millions of years. That’s easy to explain. And ecology: who doesn’t sense that all plants and animals are connected? What could be more enjoyable than visiting the product of geology and ecology – the landscape? Yet I can’t help but worry about the preservation of special and fragile geology, ecology or heritage. For how is it that cyclists ride past it, schoolchildren find it boring and voters overlook it?

Apparently, it is not visible enough. The language and images used by professionals, once beyond the borders of academia, just can’t cut it.

What do you need, to grasp geology or ecology?

Nothing more than a few clues. A dash of knowledge. Preferably administered on the spot by a human guide.
“Do you see that the salt marsh is higher than the polder behind the dike?”
“Did you notice there are no godwits near trees?”
Yes, they do see that. Nice. Right now all you have to do is to come up with an explanation for that height difference or that bird behavior. And in terms that your audience understands. If only you could put a geologist next to every phenomenon.

To simplify, but not too much

The next best way to see an area is through a paper or digital guidebook, with photos, illustrations, maps and text. An atlas, an app, a travel guide. (Whether the thing is paper or digital doesn’t really matter, it seems to me. But something that you click away in an instant is a message you forget in an instant).
Either way, digital or analog, you want to unlock scientific knowledge in an easy, visual way. You want to simplify, but not too much. Reality is complex and readers may have little time, but they certainly don’t want to waste it on information or stories that don’t teach them anything.

This way, this “opening up science” of mine will still be quite a job. Good thing the reward is so great: once people see geology or ecology, they keep seeing it everywhere.
That’s riches.

Talking geology at a party

Fun anecdote: one of the professors who collaborated on the Canon of the Dutch Landscape gave me a great reason to do my job. He said “thanks for your work, now I can just explain what I do at a party”. This also indicates that the scientists themselves find a short version of their work very useful.

Atlas of the Netherlands in the Holocene, block diagrams of braiding, meandering and anastosomal river.

Block charts and maps can look very friendly. How simple can visualizing science be? When do you go from accessibility to “telling too little”?

Canon of the Dutch Landscape, a folding sheet of 16 faces, created with 20 professors and specialists, each of whom could write a book about it.

science visualization accessible

The content is tightly bound: each plane of the folding sheet has an introduction, a description of a phenomenon, and some location text of where that phenomenon occurs. The block diagrams visualise the phenomenon.


science visualization accessible

I still think this “leaflet” is a good example of how information can be transferred from pure text to photo, map, illustration and timeline.


There is a separate section for human additions to the landscape, on top of sand, clay and peat.

science visualization accessible

‘Het ontstaan van Zeeland’ (the origins of Zeeland) lets you browse from the past to the present, getting a good look at how Zeeland became dry land, washed over again and eventually slowly became diked.

science visualization accessible

Online you would do this with a slider, such as topotijdreis.nl, but browsing by hand naturally gives you a fine object.


There is also such a thing as scientific posters, for use at conferences. For a few geomorphologists, I made a dozen, prioritizing the visual. After all, the landscape itself is visual.

science visualization accessible

It can also be a lot more abstract: the port of Rotterdam (tilted), from the “Climate as an Opportunity” project. The sea level is rising and the Netherlands must be designed accordingly. Blue shading = water storage.

A lock with ten doors

A lock with ten doors

It’s like being back in class with one of those older history teachers. He explains how things are, exuding that you are stupid for not knowing. This is the tone of voice of many information panels.

When I travel, signs with a beautiful image of a cathedral’s ground form or a coalmines insides make me happy. Something I can’t see is revealed. The situation of 400 years ago or the way a defensive structure works, for example. With a concise text attached (but not too brief). An attractive image about heritage gives you exactly what you need to discover the value of it.


You would say: you can do so much more with digital tools. But they are invisible in the field. With an app you haven’t loaded yet, you drive past a place of interest; a panel actually alerts you to it. Besides, you would be on your phone again, and you pick it up 80 times a day already. (Many young people and seniors do not have an endless data plan, that also plays a role)

So a panel after all.

Rewarding the reader

With information that significantly advances the experience, complemented by a QR code (digital after all ;-)). With that, you can find an expert who tells you something, or a video of how it works. Then the board rewards the reader. It should. Otherwise the visitor won’t stop for the next panel, and he might become completely sign-weary: “What are all these ugly plastic prints with big logos doing in my beautiful landscape?”, he might think. Yes, I dare say: fancy design only creates noise.


The water system around Utrecht is harrowingly complicated, and citizens and tourists experience its operation (or maintenance work on it) on a daily basis. And it’s just nice to know what it’s all for. The example below is about the Waaiersluis in Gouda. A lock with very special doors, constructed in such a way that they can be operated against the power of rising water. Passersby and tourists often have to wait there, and the sign is located exactly at that spot. Close to the lock. So you can look around you and compare it with the panel to check what you’re looking at. And the other way round.

If I’m honest, there’s too much information on it.
But then again, my mission is not yet accomplished.
My best information panel I am yet to make.


You can read more about visitors, heritage and the stories about them here.

More on beautiful information panels, here.

information panel on heritage beautiful picture

Just a nice thing to look at, centered on the information panel about the National Monument the Waaiersluis in Gouda.


information panel on heritage beautiful picture

A job like this for me always starts with doing fieldwork. Let’s go there and speak to everyone involved. Funny: the technical guy from the water board (right) knows theory, but the Lock Master (with cap) knows practice. Moreover, you could have fun with him as he was full of anecdotes.


The most interesting part is stationary or underwater. But not in a drawing or animation....

A fan door at rest. The point of a Waaiersluis door is that it can be closed against the ebb or flow of the tide. Ordinary lock doors are pushed out of their frames when you try to close them against the current. The special doors are there at Gouda because the tide comes all this way inland. The lock is the most inland sea wall, so to speak.


information panel on heritage where the operation is explained with beautiful and fun images

The entire panel measures 90cm by 180cm and is quite an encyclopedia. But it is half the size of the old panel it replaces. The panel on the left describes the history and struggles surrounding the invention, then an explanation of how a lock works, then a map showing the importance of the lock, a diagram explaining all the different door heights, the operation of the doors and finally the operation of the pumping stations and fish passages.


The old panel. More text, and more explanation, but in a schoolmasterly way. A nice image about heritage reduces the chance of people developing ‘teacher-weariness’.


a heritage information panel answers basic questions. The answers make you look more closely.

Hefty diagram explaining all water heights and lock gate heights. Note how on the right the suburbs of Gouda are lower than even the lowest water level


Heritage information panel: nice image about the operation of a lock.

The operation of the locks was depicted straight from above on the old panel, now the drawing is isometric so layout and depths can be seen simultaneously. That’s easier to understand.


information panel on heritage beautiful picture

The operation of the special doors and fish passages is seen straight from above, though. You can easily relate this diagram to the large drawing in the center of the board. By the way, the website for the information board is hdsr.co.uk/waaiersluis


Just as a water board has a workshop, in Illustrator I have a yard full of individual parts 😉

Modern installations underneath heritage.

It is not difficult. If there is a whole system underground, just draw a picture of it. But one that is less complicated than the engineers’ drawing, of course.


beautiful image about heritage

On the final panel it looks like this: you see the mill with everything around it, with insets for the underground parts, depicted just a little larger, and with their own descriptions.


The black-tailed godwit and its information panels

The black-tailed godwit and its information panels

Farmers talk about crop yield. Birders talk about recognizing a species.
Now that pasture birds have been shown to have declined by at least 75% in numbers and farmers are barely left with an income even when production is higher than ever, farmers and birds are coming into the public eye. And that audience could use some knowledge, preferably in the field. That can be done, with beautiful information panels about the landscape, the birds and the farmers.
The Vogelbescherming (society for the protection of birds) – masters at combining photos of beautiful birds with depressing stories – asked me to devise information panels for a meadowland bird protection project in the Bovenkerkerpolder between Amstelveen and Uithoorn. Dairy farmers have set up their own dairy factory there, and the proceeds pay for measures that help meadowland birds. And that’s not exactly the only link between farmer and bird.

Harnessing the science

Knowledge about meadowland birds comes from many sources. Ecologists, biologists, water board people and the agricultural academia produce many a report full of jargon and statistics. The information is always created at one party, so even if a concerned citizen can read it at all, they will never see the whole picture.
So that’s my first task: to show the whole thing.
But is that from the perspective of bird conservation, or from that of farmers? You know what, I’ll start in the middle. By everyday concepts: grass, manure, open space and water. This way the reader is engaged. No barriers here. These simple themes form a base to fall back on. So the text can go on to introduce food chains, migration routes and mowing methods. All these different scientific fields are connected by the four basic themes.

The reader (both farmer and bird lover) hooks into a simple concept. Open space, manure, water and grass. Let’s go deeper.

Traditional nature information starts with an animal, a bird in this case, and puts that at the top. The farmer dangles somewhere at the bottom. In this project, the four simple concepts from the landscape give farmer and bird equal importance.

Actually, we are asking the visitor to determine his or her position on the matter. That’s really just politics. The Bird Conservancy wants the slide all the way to the right, and it will only succeed if farmers can see the point.

Using art

It would be crazy not to use the beauty of the birds in this story. They lend their charisma to the panels, and you can spot them from afar. An attractive panel promises that you are going to find out something worthwhile. There’s tension between the protagonists (the birds and the farmers): who gets it the way he wants it? What situation would you prefer, as a reader and visitor? Spatial information (about mowing, water levels or where the chicks move in case of danger) is explained through drawings. There’s bits of candy: flowers, insects, the labels attached to the illustrations and diagrams, the beautiful names the flowers have. All these drawings allow the text to be nice and short.

Showing the consequences

The information and drawings are recognizably “green,” but it is not the usual marketing with big logos on it. The Bird Conservancy says: our organization sees the other party as equals. Readers who are not conservationists are not deterred. But the first sentence of the panel on grass does say, “The milk is too cheap”. As far as I am concerned, this is a fact (I put this sentence on it and glad it was not deleted). The observation “what the farmer wants is at odds with what the bird needs” is specified here: “what the farmer wants is what the consumer asks of him.”
If the citizens believe that the birds should be protected, then they should prevent their internal consumers from buying the cheapest milk.

It’s nice to design beautiful information panels about landscape and nature for clients that address issues that are normally dismissed with “that’s just how the world works”. If you flatout show things how they are, how a problem comes into being, then everyone can see how they can help.
For starters, buy milk from the Farmers of Amstel.
Just because-it’s so delicious 😉

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

The panels are a kind of hybrid: text, infographics and illustrations fused together.

[caption id="attachment_8745" align="alignleft" width="2560"] To avoid putting new objects in the field, the signs are attached to an oak plank, which are mounted with brackets on the top edge of existing field gates.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Beautiful information panels about landscape and nature on field fences along the bike route. There is also a viewfinder, a viewpoint with information in three parts about bird migration to south, east and north.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

In one corner of each sign a card and a milk carton with the reason for these signs: buy ‘meadowland bird milk’ to pay for the measures. Really tasty milk, of course.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Attaching signs to the viewfinder. Local businesses cut the boards, attached the signs and built the viewpoint. The panels themselves are made of dibond with a car-wrap sticker printed on a 6-color press. Marvellous soft gradients!


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature, viewfinder Natuurmonumenten

Viewfinder in meadow bird landscape De Slaag, for Natuurmonumenten.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Previous series of signs on metal field gates in the Eemland region, for Natuurmonumenten.

No new objects in the landscape. That already makes a big difference.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

All panels contain explanations, via supersized text and a diagrams. Here you can see how meadowland bird management actually harkens back to the conditions of the past, before large-scale livestock farming.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

The birds depicted are not birds, they are really illustrations, with clean line and filled with patterns reminiscent of Japanese woodcut techniques.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

On the viewfinder you will find at the top edge all the areas where birds migrate to from the Bovenkerkerpolder. This is an oystercatcher, who prefers not to go too far away.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Swans fly to the Pjasina Delta on the Taymir Peninsula in Siberia. In four stages!

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Curlews do not fly north or south, but west to British wetlands.