Orange Peel Perspective
keeps guests from tripping up at the CMU's Graduation

With about five months to go, the commencement planning staff at Carnegie Mellon University was in a little bit of a panic. Major construction had begun adjacent to CMU’s stadium, the venue for the main ceremony, seriously impacting the ways out.

Relatives of graduates from a number of foreign countries were expected to attend, some of whom may not have known much English or even the Roman alphabet. How were they to be directed out from the main ceremony to the specific departmental ceremonies around campus or to the staging area for the shuttles to remote off-campus ceremonies, all while keeping clear of the construction mess?

Informing Design said it could solve that problem wordlessly, in one 11” x 17” graphic.

It turns out that 20 years ago, Bob Firth developed an extravagant technique for a unique you-are-here map: the center of the map would vividly recreate your immediate surroundings as though it were painted on the top of a sphere. Stuff that was out of sight, both near and far, could be thought of as being “over the horizon” on the bottom half of the sphere. What did Bob do next?  He fleshed out the rest of the map as though he were “peeling” up the bottom of the sphere, pulling the pieces up into place around the edges of the center illustration. And then he went wild with scale: the farther away the place, the smaller the scale he employed, allowing him to pack in a lot of stuff around the edges.

One cartographic issue with you-are-here maps is establishing unambiguously how the current position relates to the paths to places that are out of sight.  With Bob’s “orange peel perspective,” most of the map is devoted to making clear exactly where you are with respect to the “paths out.”  The out of sight stuff is shown in less detail, at smaller scale, because the user only really needs to get the gist of where the paths out are leading.

Even though it was an elegant solution to an age-old mapping problem, the intensity of cartographic effort required to pull it off meant it would only be feasible for situations of intense need. To solve the problem of egress from a major University’s graduation ceremony, the orange peel solution turned out to be priceless.