Sense Mapping

GDES-270 fall 2019 (David Ramos, American University Design) · office hours

Create a map that presents the layout of a space, and displays the nature and intensity of the sensory inputs that you encountered. Through this project, you’ll explore ways of representing information in visual form, and walk through a four-stage design process.


Design is a process of observing the outside world, reflecting on what you see in a way that incorporates both cultural context and personal insight, making a tangible product, and testing different versions of that project. A designer might run through these phases in series, but they could also move back and forth between steps, cycling through parts of the process in response to what they learn.

This project introduces all four phases. We’ll take them in series, at first.

For due dates, see the class schedule page.

1. Observe

Go out and walk around some area that you’re curious about. (Take drawing and writing implements with you.) Be aware of the sensory cues that the environment provides—think about what you see, hear, smell, and feel.

Quickly, decide on one or two senses to record. Spend half an hour walking around. While you are still outside, make a sketch map of your path, recording the sensory information that you take in. You’ll want to record the rough shape of the place, and also the sensory cues that you noticed. This isn’t a final map, just a form of taking notes—don’t get too attached.

2. Reflect

Back in your workspace, think about what you experienced, and start considering ways that you might represent the sensory information.

3. Create

Make a first version of a map. Aim to use a minimum of text. You’ll have to decide on a system for representing the key features of the place, and another system for encoding the sensory inputs.

4. Iterate

We’ll critique and test your first version. In response to this feedback, make new versions of the map that explore different approaches and improve on existing ones.