One of the main tools for understanding is the process of mapping. Andrew Hinton defines mapping as taking “action toward understanding.” In the real world, we have lots of actions at our disposal to move toward understanding. In a digital experience, this action might look like scanning a page, hovering over things to see if labels appear, clicking around to see what’s there, or just navigating through a site, because we can form mental maps in many different ways. It’s not as easy to do this in a digital experience, but we still can.

As people do all these things, they’re looking for that action to create greater understanding than they had before. Mapping skills are highly developed in most people from a young age. A very small child will notice when furniture has moved in their house or remember where to find the crayons from day to day.


Kelly, Jonathan W., and Timothy P. McNamara. “Spatial Memories of Virtual Environments: How Egocentric Experience, Intrinsic Structure, and Extrinsic Structure Interact.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, vol. 15, no. 2, Apr. 2008, pp. 322–27.

We seem to use the same parts of our brain to make sense of virtual environments, but it’s not as easy. Physical movement and all the cues that aren’t replicated on a website add a lot to our mapping abilities. p. 2

Hinton, Andrew. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. First edition, O’Reilly Media, Inc, 2014.