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.


Here beauty flows

Here beauty flows

At first I didn’t understand why they were calling me. They had everything. Storylines, a corporate identity, an inspiration guide, 3D visuals, an image bank. Then I looked more closely. I saw distance everywhere. Scientific detachment. Objectivity. As can be expected of scientists. But if you want to captivate audiences then you need stories. Closeness. Intimacy even.

How do you accomplish that?


1 Do not overwhelm

For starters, by not overwhelming the reader. Stories made for visitors are shorter and much more visual. Actually, nothing new. I said, let me make drawings. Primarily because the Zeeland and Flemish geology is all but invisible in photos. The landscape is quite subtle here, no volcanoes or glaciers or cliffs, but silt and peat and terrain relief of only half a meter. Illustrations solve that.

2 Getting very close to the subject.

You would want to replace the scientific distance with first-hand information. Seeing the place through the eyes of someone who is always in the landscape. Not difficult: I suggested selecting and interviewing users of the landscape, such as farmers, rangers and ecologists. On location, not via Zoom of course. Great fun to do, you immediately gather intriguing observations.

3 Being with the subject for a long time.

To know which picture is the best, and what you want to represent in a drawing, and then to decide what the soul of the landscape is, you just have to go there. I suggested visiting all the places in the Geopark on foot. Really on foot, not by parking next to it first. I’ll bring my little tent.

The client was convinced.

And I was motivated, eager to start. Only someone very close to the subject can make something valuable. Although I imagine that walking 593 kilometers is not the only way. It is my way.

May the reader decide to visit the Geopark.
I hope the stories convince him to.
Because once you are in the landscape, you are sold.

Geopark Scheldt Delta website

My instagram reels about this project are also fun to check out.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

‘Here beauty flows’ brochure, English translation and back cover

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

The inside cover includes a map of all geological sites

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

The drawings contain very un-geological details, such as this man with cap, who does not like being on the beach.


Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

One edition is bound with a cahier stitch.

Hard work, this project. The 6 hikes I took in the fall of 2022. 600km visiting most of the 40 geological sites.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

The booklet contains 12 stories and 12 drawings. Below each drawing is a ‘tourist text’.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

I experimented a bit with different eras in 1 drawing. This is only done in 1 drawing. The clay mining at Boom is the origin story of the landscape.


Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

The cabbages of the Noë brothers near Sint-Margriete in the Meetjesland are in the picture, along with the Escholtzia they grow for tinctures.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

Each story has a “navigation thingy” where reference is made to the Geopark locations, numbered on the overview map.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

In the same style as the landscape drawings, there are block diagrams on geology and geomorphology. It doesn’t get any simpler than this.

Reclamation, accretion and embankment explained with a kind of maps.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

The block diagrams are accompanied by a very short text referring to the locations.


Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

Most of the photos were taken by me while on the road in the landscape. From really close up. Most “official” landscape photos about the geology of the area are very nice, but often they give “overview,” or try to show the whole, and that doesn’t work so well, I think.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

There is also an English translation.

Geology determines what people do in a landscape.

With Soan Lang Ie (IVN hostess of the landscape) along Het Zwin near Cadzand. An interview about sea buckthorns, sea fennel and cyclists rushing on.


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images. Geology defines what people do in a landscape.

6 walks totaling 600 kilometers resulted in 12 stories and 12 drawings. Those drawings go from sketch (choosing location and choosing what you see there) to researching source material, to final result. The view as shown in the drawing can’t be seen like that in reality. But that is precisely the power of drawings. Visual stories for visitors are engaging, not scientifically correct.


Nice image about geology

Sometimes the first sketch is in a different place, and with a different subject. On the left the Kalkense Meersen near Schellebelle, later it became a peat pit in the paleomeander of Berlare, because that is where the focus of the story is. Middle: The first style I chose was woodcut. I gouged out (digitally, but by hand) all the white. That style did not fall well, so it was honed (right) into the successor to Japanese woodcuts, the clear line. Sort of.

Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images. Geology defines what people do in a landscape.

The very first visual style was even simpler, really a woodcut with few print runs, bright colors and overprinting inks. Foraging spoonbills in a tidal channel in the Drowned Land of Saeftinghe take all the attention. The one on the right is a bit more neutral, with the ship less prominent, but the banks of the gullies (the geological share) much better in view.


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images. Geology defines what people do in a landscape.

Yerseke. On the left there is still a cut between below and above water, but that trick has been abolished (only 1 drawing with an inset remains). Center the earlier woodcut style, right the more plain line and much fresher colors. My goodness such a lot of work. Very impossible point of view, by the way. You can’t see IN the oyster pits from anywhere near the floodline of course 😉


Stories for visitors. Beautiful images about geology. Geological maps and impressions. A geography book, actually.

Then there is a section in the booklet explaining all the geological phenomena involved in the area. Here, writing was especially a chore: how could I explain Quaternary geology and geomorphology in 16 x 50 words?
The drawings are block diagrams, sections and views, in roughly the style of the large drawings. For harmony and a hint of comprehensibility (in the booklet, of course, all parts are labeled).


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images.

Really, seeing everything up close, and smelling, and feeling, is essential. (Tidal mudflat near Sint-Annaland, Tholen)


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images.

Camping at De Wachtsluis near Cadzand. Good conversation with the farmers. I did all the visiting of Geopark sites on foot. Makes you see more. Brought the tent, wonderful isn’t it?

Beautiful imagery and fascinating stories about geology.

Very tempting: showing what it looked like 4,000 and 1,500 years ago. But only in the NL part have measurements been made, and even then, how would you convert information about soil types into something of a landscape image? An important message for scientists: better not call these maps, people would think they are accurate. Better call these impressions. (They would have been 45×45 mm in the booklet)


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images. Geological maps and impressions

A spin-off: three maps for Zonneland magazine, for children. 12,000 years ago and 1,500 years ago. In such a magazine, the maps immediately feel like impressions, not accurate maps. For children, my fictional Flemish country is allowed to be drawn. (Based on all kinds of studies)


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images.

Of course, I had to watch out for an overly Dutch focus. But Flanders, and especially the banks of the Scheldt, are so interesting, I became a fan. Flemish correctors did their best to keep things Flemish. Freshwater tides and so on. Those visual stories for visitors must, of course, appeal to Flemish people as well.