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I'm developing an interactive map for a local community WiFi network, where upcoming groups/meetings/alerts/etc. can be "dropped" onto the map, based on location. Through user engagement over time, some of these "dropped" items might grow or change in some way, so a visual representation of active areas of the community can be naturally conveyed.

I'm searching for metaphors to convey this "drop and growth" mechanic, that may reflect upon an isometric-style game (i.e. The Sims, but real), growth of plants, or other visuals. A quick prototype of "unreal" buildings representing non-tangible groups in the community, that may change over time:

enter image description here

The same map interface will double as a scavenger hunt/collection game of some kind for kids in the community, but I don't know where to begin in developing a strong visual narrative/allegory around this interactive map for informational purposes. Any hints on where to find inspiration?

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It might sound obvious, but since you are using buildings already, have you considered construction workers? It could be represented as a simple short animation, or as the presence of a team/scaffoldings if you want eat to be displayed longer. (posted as a comment, as I'm still not sure I understand the question enough to make it an answer) –  Cristol.GdM Feb 14 '12 at 6:12
    
is the direction of change always from small+intangible to great+healthy? Can something atrophy or decay? –  ted.strauss Feb 24 '12 at 15:42

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This setup is ripe for using all of the natural and artificial growth metaphors that would be used in these kinds of games. In the examples I give, 'objects' refers to any of the things that are changing over time (buildings, people, symbols).

  • objects growing/rising from the ground (tree metapher)
    • a seed being planted, sprouting
  • objects start out hollow, colorless, transparent and become robust, rosy, and opaque
  • objects start out bland and unadorned, and become embellished and adorned
  • objects start out single+small and multiply+expand
  • a structure going through the stages of construction: foundation, skeleton, floors, walls, decoration.

Hints on finding inspiration: playing all those turn-based strategy games that you mention

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Instead of the Sims, think Sim City. In that game, your busy downtown, your hubs of activity are visually represented by well.. activity. Cars in the streets, people on the sidewalks.

If you're tracking groups, why not show people in groups? You can have larger or smaller groups based on the popularity.

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