Compromising creativity for user friendliness in ArcGIS


The ArcGIS innovations of Story Maps and Open Data sites are becoming a popular mainstay in organizational methods to display geographic data. They utilize sleek, interactive designs that are best suited for touchscreen devices, often appealing to a wider audience than most standard website mapping applications. However, while there are benefits to using these formats, there are some drawbacks to keep in mind when conveying data for individual or organizational purposes.

The absence of direct coding in Story Maps serves to be a strong drawback. Customization is incredibly limited, sacrificed for greater usability. While helpful for those first approaching story maps, users will eventually find themselves creating applications that all look reminiscent of each other. The limited scope of customization in regards to font choices and colors also serve to impede users from making these applications as unique as they could be. It’s also a cause of inconsistent organizational branding between applications.
Create new app with ArcGIS

Open Data sites, while allowing direct editing of some code, still confine users to widgets. In this regard, they fall into the same issue as Story Maps – all sharing a distinct “top to bottom” display. After creating several of these sites, these similar attributes make them recognizable as products of ArcGIS Online, but not of individual users. Organizations can’t individualize their data in a distinct, recognizable way. Ultimately users are limited by both widgets and the limitations of Markdown.

Even some simplistic features, such as creating galleries of data sets, are impeded by a stringent grid. Users are given arrows that allow sets to move by a fixed amount and – when paired with several other data sets – can lead to information being condensed in a near unreadable format.

The iframe widget tends to cause similar issues with the incorporation of Story Maps, sometimes leading to strange transition between desktop and mobile usage. While these issues are remedied with relative ease, the existence of flaws in these applications – ones meant to be intuitive at the loss of direct code editing – make them exceedingly noticeable.

Bringing in motion graphics seen in After Effects, audio tracks from Audition, or incorporating the layout customization of InDesign could allow for options that these features can’t currently provide. For now, these services remain user-friendly, but ultimately lacking in creative options to engage audiences and convey data.


  1. i can’t help but point out that we’ve open sourced eight different storymap templates so that folks can extend and customize them at a much deeper level than the off the shelf configuration options allow.

    for example the ‘Developer Guide’ section of the storymap-tour outlines the architecture of the source code, steps to run locally and describes how to make a few style tweaks that aren’t possible in the hosted version.

    its actually a bit of a catch-22. the more configurable we make our open source templates, the more difficult it is to digest the code and makes changes outside of the sandbox.


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