Contextus is an iPad app that gives people the tools to discover information within the context of place and time, visualizing knowledge through a geographic lens.
The final prototype video
When a significant number of Americans cannot locate New York City on a U.S. map or name the country that borders us to the south, there's a big problem. And this problem will leave us unprepared for an increasingly competitive and global future.

Contextus explores the world through a spatial lens and shows that geography is much more than just points on a map. Geography is history, its politics, its economics, its dozens of other interconnected fields of study. Contextus gives people the tools to see these connections and find answers to their questions for themselves, which makes for a more active and engaging learning experience. By providing more insight to an answer rather than just hard facts, the user is learning through the medium, not just the message.

Geography is a soft science, subjective and open to interpretation. Contextus celebrates that and creates a forum for people to engage in healthy debate and intelligent discussion.

One of many whiteboard concept sketching sessions.

Assessing existing/competing products and services
Initial inspiration came from such books as Guns, Germs and Steel and Freakonomics which challenge status quo assumptions about the world we live in, on a macro and micro scale. Through the books authored by geographer Harm de Blij, the importance of maps beyond a purely navigational tool was made clear; knowledge of geography is vital for addressing the issues of global terrorism, climate change and the rise of China.

To better understand people's views of maps and geography, as well as learn how they find and process information, a survey was created and sent out to over 60 participants. Their answers helped guide the thesis process along.

Competitive analyses were conducted, experts interviewed, my thesis advisor consulted, more books read and pitches and purpose statements rewritten. Experiments and prototypes created and tested, some using html, some using acetate overlays and some using Google Earth.

Documenting my classmates’ travels and countries of origin with the paper map prototype.

Testing out some assumptions about geography through the use of acetate prototypes.

Creating a concept map to identify all of the various users, areas of technology, design aspects and facets of geography that surround my thesis

Sketching the idea of a data cube-driven user interface

Lego model of data cube concept
After categorizing the possible user types, the user focus concentrated on psychographics (what people want to do) rather than demographics. The tablet device form was chosen after the content and tone since iPads are context-agnostic: they function equally well for different purposes in different settings.
The functional, interaction and visual design of Contextus finally followed all of the research. In lieu of a programmed worked app, the final prototype consisted of a video showing how Contextus could work and the questions it could answer.

Userflow diagram determining the logic of a set of user actions

The final visual design of the Contextus app
A year’s worth of work condensed down to a final seven-minute presentation
Thesis Development & Presentation
Fall 2011 – Spring 2012

Liz Danzico, David Womack and Frank Chimero
Thesis Advisor: Shawn Allen