The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Democratising Map-Making: A Conversation with Loren Baxter from Felt

John Carter
June 12, 2024
36
 MIN
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Democratising Map-Making: A Conversation with Loren Baxter from Felt

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Episode shownotes

Welcome to another episode of This is HCD. We chatted with Loren Baxter, a product designer at Felt, about their innovative mapping software. Felt aims to make map-making accessible to everyone, moving beyond just GIS experts. Loren shared how Felt simplifies the process of creating maps, making it easy for users to handle geospatial data and collaborate seamlessly.

We discussed Felt's impactful role in disaster response and humanitarian efforts, showcasing how accessible mapping can make a real difference. Loren also explained the challenges government organisations face with specialised mapping and how Felt addresses these issues.

We delved into the exciting potential of AI in enhancing mapping experiences and the design challenges of creating a product for both novices and experts. Loren highlighted Felt's free option for personal use, emphasising their commitment to accessibility.

Overall, Felt is making significant strides in democratising map-making, and it was inspiring to hear about their journey and vision for the future.

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Episode Transcript

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[00:00:00] Gerry Scullion: Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of This is HCD. My name is Gerry Scullion and I'm a Human Centered Design Practitioner based in the wonderful city of Dublin, Ireland. In this podcast, we delve into the fascinating world of design and technology in society. And if you're new here, please don't forget to hit the subscribe button on YouTube or the follow button if you're on Spotify to get all the latest videos.

[00:00:35] Gerry Scullion: Videos on podcasts today in the show, we have got a very special guest. We've got Loren Baxter, a brilliant product designer from Felt in San Francisco. Joining us to discuss really how they're revolutionizing the mapping industry. Now we'll explore how Felt is making it easier, more easier than ever to create mapping.

[00:00:56] Gerry Scullion: No matter if you're a beginner or a pro, so whether you're an urban planner or an everyday [00:01:00] enthusiast like myself, their platform is designed to be as accessible and collaborative as possible. Something I didn't know about before, but after meeting Loren, I've started to use their product more and more.

[00:01:10] Gerry Scullion: We're going to delve into how AI is transforming mapping and really making it smarter and more intuitive. Plus, we'll discuss some incredible success stories where Felt software played a crucial role in the disaster response in humanitarian efforts. Expect to hear about the challenges of specialized mapping within governments, the future of mapping with AI, and even how hotels and hospitalities are getting in on the action with interactive maps.

[00:01:35] Gerry Scullion: It's super cool. I think you're going to love this episode. So whether you're involved in design technology or just love hearing about innovative tools that make life easier, this conversation is for you. Now, let's get started, map out the future on this exciting field with Loren. And don't forget to like, comment, and share the video if you like it.

[00:01:53] Gerry Scullion: Let's jump straight in. I'm delighted to have you in the podcast, Loren. We've been chatting back and forth, and I'm [00:02:00] excited to learn a little bit more around what you're working on at the moment. That's your dog in the background, but you know, I'm delighted to have a dog as part of the podcast. It's the first.

[00:02:07] Gerry Scullion: But look, we'll start off, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you're from, and what you do, and then we'll get into talking about the work that you're doing with Felt.

[00:02:15] Loren Baxter: Yeah. Thanks. I'm excited to be here. And so is my dog Daisy. Um, yeah, so I'm Loren. I've been a product designer for 15 to 20 years now.

[00:02:25] Loren Baxter: Um, mostly in the Bay area. So I live here in San Francisco and I tend to work on early stage startups. So I've noticed myself really gravitating towards, you know, being a founder or an early hire and, you know, really building something from, you know, You know, nothing into something that's the stage I really love.

[00:02:42] Loren Baxter: I love working with small teams. So, um, in the last sort of like 5 to 10 years, um, my journey has taken me through a lot of creative software startups. I think that's also a niche that I've discovered. I love. So I have my own company called prime and we're building tools for photographers. So photo editing [00:03:00] on the phone, it's just kind of in the heyday of You know, mobile photography really on the rise.

[00:03:04] Loren Baxter: Um, uh, after that I joined a company called Remix, uh, and they do mapping software for the people who plan transportation in cities. So you can think of it kind of like city for the people who plan cities. Um, really, really cool software. Uh, you're really working on maps a lot. Um, and so I ended up being product design there for a while and then head of design.

[00:03:26] Loren Baxter: And I managed both our, our product and brand design teams for a few years. Um, remix was acquired in 2021. Uh, and I stuck around and it kind of helped the team navigate that transition. You know, it got bought by a much bigger company called via who also does, you know, public transportation stuff. Um, and then, yeah, I wanted to get back to the early beginnings of companies.

[00:03:47] Loren Baxter: And so, um, I joined Felt really early on. Um, I had. through my time at Remix encountered the way that people make maps in the world. Like our customers had mapping software and I [00:04:00] saw how I think much room there is for mapping software to become more usable, more accessible to lots of people. Um, and that's what Phelps is doing.

[00:04:08] Loren Baxter: I would describe it as a sort of a figma for maps. So I've been doing that for the last two years.

[00:04:14] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, it's, it's an area that's probably for our listeners are probably saying, why are you talking about mapping software? Some of the early listeners of the podcast will realize that I have a deep, deep interest in visibilization.

[00:04:27] Gerry Scullion: Anything that creates alignment and shared understanding, to me, is an area that I'm really, really interested in. So, this is really for anyone who wants to learn a little bit more about something left field. And also, as we're going to learn, you know, maps are, you know, have been around for a very, very long time.

[00:04:43] Gerry Scullion: And, you know, the future of maps is really, really important to how we actually, Live and work and collaborate and especially as our services permeate society a lot more, it's really interesting and important to look at these kind of tools to how they evolve. So, Tell us a little bit more [00:05:00] around, uh, the work that you're doing at Felt at the moment, because how long have you been in existence?

[00:05:06] Gerry Scullion: Should we say about two or three years, isn't it? Again, plus the three years though. Yeah. Very good. And your role is kind of, as you said, you've been in there from Almost a dot, you're one of the first hires, um, what's it been like at the, at that stage of coming into a business where maybe the proposition hasn't been completely, um, formed and you're still trying to find your feet.

[00:05:31] Gerry Scullion: What was that whole experience like, and how did you navigate that? Did you have a map to, uh, to work towards? Yeah,

[00:05:37] Loren Baxter: I see what you did there,

[00:05:39] Gerry Scullion: Gerry. That's hilarious.

[00:05:42] Loren Baxter: Um, yeah, well, so, yeah. I should have mentioned. So the CEO of remix, when I joined this guy, Sam Chemi, uh, formerly product designer, um, still has the product designer brain, but you know, as working in a CEO role, he had left remix and founded Felt.

[00:05:56] Loren Baxter: So I think we had like encountered together [00:06:00] some of the same problems that we saw people working with maps having. And I, I think for him and for me, like had this experience where, The like product idea that was keeping me up at night for years was this idea of like a figma for maps, you know, as a product designer, I've gotten to watch my tools evolve so much over the last 20 years.

[00:06:19] Loren Baxter: And they're just incredible now. And when I first encountered, Some of the mapping software out there. Um, it's like really, really powerful stuff, but it just, it feels like how it felt to me when I opened Photoshop, you know, for the first time in like 1998, right, just overwhelmed with like buttons and kind of like, you know, an older style of design, an older style of, of, you know, it's an installed application with like files that you have to save and you're like classic, like version 2.

[00:06:48] Loren Baxter: final, final, like meme thing. And I was like, wow, you know, I get to use. Tools like Figma and all these other amazing design tools that we have. And I have encountered this world of people who are doing [00:07:00] what looks like design to me, right. They're making these beautiful artifacts. Maps are so impressive and cool and like intricate and elaborate.

[00:07:07] Loren Baxter: Um, and they're using software that, you know, is powerful, but as from like a previous generation and a lot of times, um, and so, you know, honestly, what we've been doing is trying to bring that vision to life. And I remember on my first day, just thinking. Like my head was so filled with backed up ideas for the last few years that it was less of like finding the footing and more of like a hit the ground and start running like just unleash all these ideas that have been kicking around.

[00:07:35] Loren Baxter: Um, and we're lucky, right? Like we get to stand on the shoulders of giants and inherit a lot of philosophies and design patterns and things that you see in all these other software verticals, like in design documents, spreadsheets, so many pieces of software have been brought into the browser. And there's a lot of shared patterns.

[00:07:51] Loren Baxter: So we can, you know, really stay on top of that.

[00:07:54] Gerry Scullion: It's funny because as you're, as you're talking, um, I created an account on Felt. com so I could [00:08:00] get a much better understanding and what you're talking about. It's that easy. No, but as you're, you know, it was that easy, actually. So someone's doing something well.

[00:08:08] Gerry Scullion: But, um, by the way, this isn't a paid, uh, podcast. So some people might kind of go, I'm endorsing Felt. I don't know. Like, I'm, I'm, I'm at that point of just learning about this space. Um, and as you're talking now, I completely start to see opportunities where I might use it. Okay. So one of the questions I had to you in the lead up to this is.

[00:08:27] Gerry Scullion: Your target audience. Initially looks like it's, as you would call them, GIS experts or, or cartographers, is what I was calling them before I spoke to you today, Loren. Is there a shift then you want to try and scale and obviously make it more applicable for, you know, the likes of myself or, you know, working in the community.

[00:08:47] Gerry Scullion: You want to create greater sense of alignment or even schools if they wanna, or tourists, you know, hotels that they wanna identify. You know, proximity to them, where the museums are and where the bus stop is, is that kind of the [00:09:00] model now, as you see it, you know, after three years, where you're going?

[00:09:03] Loren Baxter: Yeah, I would say, you know, what we've seen is I think a lot of us, including folks like myself, we have not really learned to think in maps yet.

[00:09:12] Loren Baxter: You know, obviously there's the like, Atlas type maps, like Google maps, Apple maps, you know, I can find stuff I can navigate. It's a really mature product area, but I don't, you know, it's not common to think like, Hey, I actually, I have geospatial stuff, like ideas, information about my world. You know, maybe I'm having a wedding.

[00:09:31] Loren Baxter: I want to like show where the wedding venue is and the hotel and the path, right. Or I'm doing a road trip. And often. We aren't really taught to like think by creating a map for that stuff, even though it's like a really great artifact to do so. Um, and so I think what we've seen is that the people who do think in maps, you know, the GIS experts, the cartographers, they love Felt because Of course, they're excited about software that's, you know, easier to use faster, like runs in the [00:10:00] browser, solve some of these, you know, classic problems you encounter with like file based, um, installed applications.

[00:10:06] Gerry Scullion: Yeah,

[00:10:06] Loren Baxter: they, you know, then it kind of expands past them. Right. And they're the ones who say, Hey, look, You know, to the people around them in their organizations or their friends and family, they say, look, you can make maps like me, right. But it's easy enough for you to do it now. Um, and so I think that's where we kind of like start the circle and expand from there.

[00:10:26] Loren Baxter: And it is also really exciting to just see people who've like, never even thought about making a map before, are fine Felt and they're like, Oh, cool. And then they just start making maps. Like me, like

[00:10:35] Gerry Scullion: me now. I'm already kind of saying when we get off this, I'm going to make a couple of maps. Yeah. So. Like what, what are the challenges faced for people before Felt who wanted to create maps?

[00:10:46] Gerry Scullion: What was their experience like to, I guess, um, you know, explore that world within GIS or just maps generally, like, was it just the case of people going to Google maps and taking screenshots? Is that where we're at? [00:11:00]

[00:11:00] Loren Baxter: Quite a bit of that. Yeah. A lot of times you'll, I'm sure you'll look through your own, you know, email inbox history or messages and you will find.

[00:11:07] Loren Baxter: Screenshots of maps with, you know, effectively like Ms. Paint kind of scribbles on top of, you know, here's where the thing is. Yeah. Um, and if you were doing anything beyond that, there's this huge chasm, right? It was like, okay, you're doing really simple beginner stuff like that. Big gap. And then you're like doing fancy stuff that you may need, like even a degree or like an enterprise software license from the organization you work for.

[00:11:34] Loren Baxter: It's even have access to the software to know how to use it. Um, I remember for me, my first try, right. There's this software called QGIS, which is. Incredible. It's an open source mapping platform, QGIS. Um, it's so powerful. And I remember when I was working at Remix, I needed to make a map for like a design prototype I was making.

[00:11:55] Loren Baxter: And I was like, okay, I, you know, I need this map. It needs to have a few lines and some words on it. So I went to Google and [00:12:00] I typed like map making software free, you know, and I found QGIS and installed it. Just with a lot of hubris, you know, I was like, Oh, I could figure this out in a few minutes. And I was, I just ran into a brick wall, right?

[00:12:11] Loren Baxter: It was like, Loren, you need to look at YouTube tutorials for a few hours before you're going to even be able to get started with this software. Yeah, it's pretty complex. Not to knock it because QGIS is made for GIS people, right? It's not made so that like, literally everyone can just super easily make a map and it's super powerful stuff.

[00:12:31] Loren Baxter: We love QGIS. We have a QGIS plugin. There are a lot of people who use QGIS and then send their maps into Felt. Uh, but you know, for someone like me who really didn't know what was going on, it was really, really, you know, the, the learning curve is very steep. Um, and I think with Felt it's a lot easier to just get started.

[00:12:47] Gerry Scullion: So what's that whole experience like? Um, because if you're trying to understand the whole kind of experience of creating alignment, um, it doesn't typically happen. You know, at the same time, there's a lot of [00:13:00] asynchronous kind of experiences happening to make that understanding occur. So. How does Felt approach that kind of three dimensional experience approach where you want to avoid creating a static image, you want to create an experience that allows the information to be rolled out, so to speak, to make the context richer.

[00:13:21] Gerry Scullion: Is that something that you see? Because I noticed on the interface here that you've got share. And so I know you're already thinking about this, but what does that experience look like as you play it back to the, uh, the other person that you're trying to create an alignment with?

[00:13:32] Loren Baxter: Absolutely. I mean, it's so fun to use the patterns we've seen success on from so many other kinds of software like Google Docs, right?

[00:13:40] Loren Baxter: They took, you know, prior to that, you had Microsoft Word files on your computer and all the attendant problems that come with like, here's this version. And then I email it to you. And you send me comments back and make another version. And, you know, it just becomes a mess really quickly. Um, yeah, Sigma did the same with design, you know, we were sharing [00:14:00] files and screenshots with each other and now it just happens in one place in the browser or, you know, in software that's basically a browser.

[00:14:07] Loren Baxter: And so Phil does that, right? It's the maps live at a URL. The whole application runs in the browser and it's, you know, multiplayer from the start. So you can get in there with your collaborators. Cursors are flying around, you're doing stuff at the same time. You can leave comments and at mention each other.

[00:14:23] Loren Baxter: So, you know, like we didn't invent these software patterns, but they really haven't existed in mapping in a robust way. And we just said, Hey, like, of course this should be on maps, right? It should be exactly the same to collaborate on like a Google doc, right? Or a Google sheet. Like you should be able to do those things on the map.

[00:14:40] Loren Baxter: It's the same set of problems. Um, at least that sort of collaborative layer, of course, mapping does have its own specialized problems too.

[00:14:49] Gerry Scullion: I remember when Apple Maps came out, there was this whole kind of, you know, comparative opportunity to compare with, as I like to call it, the main source of truth of Google Maps, because it's been [00:15:00] around longer and the data seems to be a little bit better.

[00:15:02] Gerry Scullion: That's my experience. Anyway, I'm, I'm still on Android on a pixel, but, um, the standardized tools or the, the data sources that you have within Felt how accurate. Are those maps that are in there, like, where's that source coming from of, um, say when I pull in here, I'm looking at Dublin and Ireland. So is that something that's proprietary to Felt or, you know, is it coming in from Google or Apple?

[00:15:29] Gerry Scullion: Talk to me, talk to me through about the data and how you're handling those capabilities.

[00:15:33] Loren Baxter: Yeah, sure. Um, so there's many different parts that kind of contribute to a map, and that's one cool thing is like a map is so dense with information. And so there's multiple sources. I would say one of the foundational ones is something called OpenStreetMap.

[00:15:47] Loren Baxter: If you haven't heard of it, it's sort of like Wikipedia for like map data, right? So, yeah. Contributors around the world for many, many years now have, you know, basically done citizen mapping and created a [00:16:00] map of the world that is open source, right? It's not, you know, like Google's proprietary data. And so anyone can use it.

[00:16:07] Loren Baxter: We use it. Um, it, you know, Felt would not exist without open street map. Um, that's one source. Um, Now then there's like satellite data. We get our satellite data from a provider called Mapbox. Um, satellite data is a whole different beast, right? And what you're doing with satellite data is stitching together satellite imagery from around the world.

[00:16:26] Loren Baxter: And of course, you know, satellites only take pictures of little strips of the world. So it's really this big mosaic. They're taking it different times. You know, it's hard to kind of And then also when you zoom in and out, right. Zooming way out, that's a satellite image, but when you zoom right way in and you're looking at like, you know, your, your street and the city you live in, that's an aerial image that was taken from a plane.

[00:16:45] Loren Baxter: Right. So it's actually a really hard problem to stitch all of that together. So, you know, we buy satellite imagery from Mapbox, um, And so on, right? There's just this huge stack of like sources that we weave together to create something like the map inside of [00:17:00] Felt.

[00:17:01] Gerry Scullion: So let's talk about like a success story, I guess, from Felt's perspective.

[00:17:05] Gerry Scullion: This is your opportunity to kind of let the jack out of the box. Um, for me, in my perspective, when I lived in Australia. Um, whenever the fires would happen, like in the bush fires, um, they wanted to try and enable, um, very quick data to be released to the public of where the fires were, where the directions of the winds were going, um, where the projected fire was going to be in two hours, four hours, six hours, and so forth, because it moves so quickly.

[00:17:34] Gerry Scullion: I remember at that time the data was usually out of date by the time it hit. Um, the TV, uh, so the quickest source was the internet. Tell me about how this kind of solution would enable those problems to, to kind of, I wouldn't say disappear, but be mitigated somewhat.

[00:17:56] Loren Baxter: Sure. Yeah. Well, So Felt is really, really fast [00:18:00] and really easy to get going.

[00:18:01] Loren Baxter: Um, so we do see a lot of disaster response, like you're talking about.

[00:18:04] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. And

[00:18:05] Loren Baxter: it's super easy for anyone to create a map and you can just start drawing stuff, right? Like here's where the fire is. These roads are closed. Here's the place where, you know, people are, are meeting up, like the, you know, the place where they can sleep and be safe since they've had to evacuate their homes.

[00:18:18] Loren Baxter: So we've seen a bunch of that, um, similarly, you know, I've seen a ton of like humanitarian and journalism response in the conflict in Gaza. So people mapping, like, you know, where are these, you know, where are these people that we're trying to evacuate? Right? Where was their last known location? Um, you know, where have, you know, pulling in aerial imagery and looking at where damage has happened.

[00:18:42] Loren Baxter: Um, we see this and, you know, we. Okay. In multiple disasters, like hurricanes fires, even after the fact, analyzing aerial imagery and saying, like, which houses were destroyed, which houses were damaged, you know, which ones are still standing. So it's just really easy to work quickly and Felt, um, I guess I [00:19:00] would add that 1 tough.

[00:19:01] Loren Baxter: 1 thing that's difficult to work with. The mapping is the data is it's in all kinds of formats. There's esoteric stuff you have to know about, like what, what projection the data is in, you know, is it like a spherical globe or one of the, you know, the like orange peel looking one that you saw in elementary school and you just, that kind of stuff you don't want to have to think about.

[00:19:21] Loren Baxter: So we've worked really, really hard at Felt to make it so you can just take any piece of geospatial data. Drop it on the map and we just figure it out, right, and just render it on the map. So again, we're just trying to remove the complexity for people and make it really, really fast. So that, you know, for whatever you need to do, you can just get going.

[00:19:38] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. I'm trying to think of other scenarios that your prime customer could be. Could you tell us, based on your experience over the last couple of years, you know, we've talked about disaster responses, um, What about local councils or governments and how they're planning their cities? Because I'm sure that's the case if they're just using Google [00:20:00] Maps as a source, source of truth and just drawing over it.

[00:20:03] Gerry Scullion: How would that change and how would it help enable better outcomes for governments when they're planning? Um, Urban improvements.

[00:20:12] Loren Baxter: Yeah. Well, I'll give governments more credit. They do have like pretty robust mapping stacks, right. And they're, they're using a lot of the software that yeah, um, they do like governments actually quite good at this.

[00:20:25] Loren Baxter: They've been doing planning for a long, long time. Uh, but I think, you know, what you see in places like governments doing planning is that, you know, it still is. Really specialized within the organization, right? So the person or the small group of people making maps are the like GIS specialists, right? And you'll see this bottleneck where other people in government or an organization say like, Hey, we need a map of this, or we need that data.

[00:20:48] Loren Baxter: And they'll like file a request over to the GIS team who are. You know, inundated with requests and just trying to keep up. And I think if, you know, for anyone on this podcast who does design, you may have experienced [00:21:00] this yourself in the past, like being this sort of like design ticket machine where requests come in and you send designs out.

[00:21:06] Loren Baxter: Um, and it's like, Not really a role that you want to play. Ultimately, you want to be more of an enabler, right. To sort of empower everyone to be making maps. And so I think that's what we're seeing with Felt as well, where they say, Hey, now everyone in this organization, you know, it has much more access to like making and working with and communicating around our maps.

[00:21:26] Loren Baxter: But we definitely see that in planning of all kinds, right? You're looking at a park, you're looking at. disadvantaged neighborhoods, where are we going to put, you know, new infrastructure, or invest in community outreach, or, you know, what have you. It's just, when you start to look at it, like, so many discussions, like, are better had on maps, because you're talking about, you know, something that exists in space.

[00:21:49] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. As, uh, as you were talking, I'm building a map out in real time and I might try and share my screen in a minute and I've just realized [00:22:00] it's just clicked for me when I added a layer. I didn't realize what the layer was and I added in the bike lanes, bike lanes of San Francisco. That's not going to make a difference to the Dubliner.

[00:22:09] Gerry Scullion: I'm like, no, it has the data sources for all the bike lanes in Dublin folks. So I can see it's, it's like everything you go in and you have a play with it and you're going to go. Okay, I know, I know what this does now, so I could see why it could be very powerful, like, you know, um, and it could be very beneficial, but is the expectation that, you know, you might get somebody in here every couple of days, or maybe once or twice a year to create a map.

[00:22:35] Gerry Scullion: What's that experience looking like for you as a product designer when you're designing those things? Because from my perspective, you know, if I have people coming to stay. Um, or if I'm putting on an event in Dublin or something of that, I might create a bespoke map. Talk to me about those kinds of challenges and, you know, how you want to work with that.

[00:22:54] Loren Baxter: Yeah. So I think, you know, on the, on the end that you're describing, right, like, Hey, it's, you know, you're, you and me, [00:23:00] we're making a simple map once in a while for, you know, you have people visiting or I have an Airbnb and, you know, I want to like, Have my guests have a cool map of the local area of where to go or I want to like complain to my government about the bike lanes and like, you know, there's this street with the bad bike lane and people are getting, you know, having bad interactions between pedestrians and cars.

[00:23:20] Loren Baxter: That should be super approachable for that kind of person, right? Because you're not going to be a map expert. It should be. And like really simple stuff. Like, Hey, if I want to like draw a line, there's a tool. It's a line drawing tool. I draw it, you know, and like, it really, you know, you open advanced GIS software and it's just not that simple.

[00:23:38] Loren Baxter: You have to know all these other concepts. Like, okay, I'm going to create a data layer. It's a line based data layer. And then I will. define the attributes the line needs to have, and then I can draw a line, you know, so just blowing all that away and making it like a drawing. Then for the people who are coming in every day for work, there's so much depth to the power and, you know, advanced use of what people [00:24:00] need to make maps.

[00:24:00] Loren Baxter: And we've invested really, really heavily in that, like working with data, doing spatial transformations, like all this fancy jargon You know, I won't spend, linger on too much, but that we've invested a huge amount of time in making this mapping software that as a mapping professional, you can use for your job every single day.

[00:24:19] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. Okay. I can, I can see the power of this. Um, so in some ways, like I totally connect by, or you're using the reference of Figma for maps. Um, but based on the research that you and the team have been doing at Felt, Okay. Where do you see it going now that AI has kind of arrived into the conversation of every client's mouth at the moment?

[00:24:43] Gerry Scullion: How do you think that's going to reshape the service that you're providing? I think AI

[00:24:51] Loren Baxter: is only going to make things better for everybody. Um, I think one thing that AI is Pretty good at is being an [00:25:00] interface between you and something structured, right? So a lot of times if you ask AI, you're like, Hey, just, you know, tell me about this thing.

[00:25:05] Loren Baxter: It'll have hallucinations. It'll, you know, you fact check it, you have trouble trusting it. You know, I'm hopeful that that problem is solved, but that's definitely the current state of the world. But there's, for example, there's software called overpass turbo. And that it's like a cool little, you can find it online.

[00:25:22] Loren Baxter: And what that does is allow you to get data out of open street map. Right. And you can say, Hey, overpass turbo, like get me all the, you know, parks in doublet. I want a geospatial. Data file of all the parks in Dublin. Right. But to do that, you actually do have to like construct sort of a query and, you know, that's of course a, like a fancy thing to sort of learn and know how to do, but I think like AI is really, really good at writing fancy queries to get data out of something for you, right.

[00:25:51] Loren Baxter: It's, it's good. It's kind of like, you know, coding based interaction. So I think that's one example of a place where AI may make it a lot easier to [00:26:00] sort of get at and work with data. Yeah. But in the end, you know, I think what people are doing is like communicating with each other, right? They're making decisions, they're making plans, and that kind of stuff is not what AI does, right?

[00:26:13] Loren Baxter: Like, AI is going to help you in that process, but ultimately, You know, if you're making a decision about, yeah, which park do we need to spend our budget on improving? Right? You're not going to ask AI that you're going to have that discussion within your city parks department and come up with an answer.

[00:26:28] Loren Baxter: And so that was a really good piece of that puzzle.

[00:26:31] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, pretty much. One of the questions I have, because it's, it's kind of a, a very unique product in the sense that I haven't seen too many people working in this space. And I guess I'm flicking between two different modes here, folks. I'm, I'm trying to understand the product, but I'm also interesting in the challenge that Loren had or experiences when designing this product.

[00:26:52] Gerry Scullion: Like, so you've, you've worked in prime, as you said, your own, your own business a couple of years ago. Um, what's been the biggest [00:27:00] challenge? To date with Felt that you've kind of faced when designing this product. I

[00:27:05] Loren Baxter: think it's, it's a challenge that I love. It's this like designing for the spectrum of experience, right?

[00:27:13] Loren Baxter: Designing a product where you say, Hey, if someone has never, literally never made a map before they can come in and they can use this, right? Like that is the baseline. And someone who is a, like, seasoned professional would come in here and use it and find it powerful, fast, and valuable for them. And that's a really hard line to walk.

[00:27:32] Loren Baxter: I mean, I think every designer relates to that idea of trade offs between usability and power. I really enjoy designing for that. And I think, actually, my Top inspiration is operating systems like Mac, macOS, right? Because again, people all over the world use macOS people who are not that technical, open it up and they can, you know, send email and browse the internet and do these things.

[00:27:58] Loren Baxter: But if you're a developer, I mean, you can [00:28:00] get down in there and you're coding system files and doing all this deep stuff. And it's just really amazing how it, Allows you this ability to interact at a simple level, but to like push deeper and it just keeps offering more as you do that. And I think that that's been what we've gone for at Felt.

[00:28:19] Gerry Scullion: So if we gave you the full reins of Felt, so, you know, we managed to, um, Move your, your peers out of the way and you're like, you're going to have all the decisions. Based on what you've learned over the last three years, what would be the kind of core features that you'd love to see involved in the roadmap for the next couple of months in the last couple of years at Felt?

[00:28:41] Gerry Scullion: What are the bits that you're most excited about?

[00:28:44] Loren Baxter: Yeah, well, what's fun because our CEO is a product designer, we partner so much, like, like what we're doing is what I want. And not because like I said, so, but because we have this mind meld, right? I think we are deep, deep product thinkers. And so. [00:29:00] It's been really amazing to not have to sort of convince leadership of like this or that design thing.

[00:29:05] Loren Baxter: Right? It really is centered at the forefront of what we're doing. Um, so something that we've been working on right now, if you can put data into Felt, you know, it becomes fairly static after that. You like, you upload it. We process it. There it is. It's really fast. Of course, organizations. Have data that's alive, right?

[00:29:22] Loren Baxter: You have your database, there's a bunch of stuff in there, but it changes over time. And of course, you're going to want to hook that into a map and then watch that map change and be able to work around that. Uh, I'm really excited for that because I think it just takes these artifacts from being something that's kind of, you know, potentially like the end of a process.

[00:29:40] Loren Baxter: You kind of like get to the map and there it is, it's done and you may communicate around it for a while. Um, and then, you know, eventually it kind of like, Becomes an artifact of the past and the ability to hook up things that live inside of Felt and continue to update and that you can continue to collaborate around, I think will bring a huge amount of value.

[00:29:59] Loren Baxter: So [00:30:00] that's something we've been working on. I'm really excited to deliver.

[00:30:03] Gerry Scullion: So it's one thing to look at this in the, in the browser wall, what's it like? I want to try and understand the experience of the person on the mobile, you know, the mobile user who are, who's got sent a link like this, who maybe requires contextual information that the person on the desktop has kind of triggered.

[00:30:21] Gerry Scullion: Um, what's that experience like for that person to be played back? Is this like a video format? Is it an interactive canvas? Oh, it's just a map.

[00:30:29] Loren Baxter: Yeah. I mean, you open it up in your browser on your phone and it's a map right

[00:30:33] Gerry Scullion: there.

[00:30:35] Loren Baxter: Yeah. Um, of course we've obviously slimmed down the UI so, so we don't offer editing on the mobile.

[00:30:41] Loren Baxter: I think that's something we're like, you know, interested in, but of course the whole UI doesn't just fit naturally on a phone. So what we've really prioritized thus far, I mean, we're a small team, so we've prioritized is like the viewing experience, right? So if I've. Made my, um, you know, my road closures map because there was an avalanche or a fire and I need to get that out.[00:31:00]

[00:31:00] Loren Baxter: Of course, a ton of the people who arrived at that map are going to be coming from their phones, right? And so the experience of viewing that, browsing around it, like understanding it, needs to be top class. And they're not going to install an app, right? They're going to look at it on their browser, on their phone.

[00:31:16] Gerry Scullion: One of the areas like Ireland, I don't know if you've ever been to Dublin, but we rely heavily on tourism. So when I kind of understand from the perspective of tourism Ireland and a lot of the tourism boards in Ireland and the hotels, I see this as being really powerful from Airbnb's perspective and, you know, B& B's perspective and hotels perspective and being able to create unique experiences.

[00:31:41] Gerry Scullion: For their visitors, that's something that you're seeing more and more of more hotels taking ownership of these kind of things. And can they share those? Is there one kind of community that you can tap into for, like, say, somewhere like Dublin? That's what you've explored. Yes.

[00:31:59] Loren Baxter: We've seen a [00:32:00] bit of that. I think that what we've seen in terms of the like sort of hospitality, Hey, our guests need a map kind of use case tends to be people who I would say are, you know, the, the like early adopter types or who are just looking around the internet, like what's cool out there.

[00:32:14] Loren Baxter: Are there new tools? I'm going to check them out. Right. And they come get Felt and maybe they have an Airbnb that they host and they're like, yeah, they make a map. Um, in terms of. Okay. Hotels, I, it's one of those worlds where there's not even a mapping function at all. Usually like they don't have a GIS specialist at the hotel.

[00:32:29] Loren Baxter: Right. And so I think it's a great example of the kind of industry where people aren't even thinking in maps yet. And I'm excited for us to get to this point where even the person managing a hotel might think like, Hey, it would be really cool to have offer an interactive gap, uh, map to our guests. Right.

[00:32:45] Loren Baxter: But I think that's something that, you know, a story that's still to be told really. Yeah.

[00:32:49] Gerry Scullion: And people could feed into it. All the guests could feed into it. And that's how you can break this. I have been to Dublin

[00:32:56] Loren Baxter: by the way. I went to Interaction Design Conference [00:33:00] 2012 in Dublin and it was great.

[00:33:02] Gerry Scullion: Yeah.

[00:33:03] Gerry Scullion: That's when I was in Australia. So I think probably 2012 to try and like, I came home 2018 to Dublin. And from the time I left in 2006, To 2018, it's a completely different city, completely different country. So you're overdue is what I'm trying to say to you. You need to come back now and experience that.

[00:33:23] Gerry Scullion: People say it's kind of like San Francisco where, with all the tech companies floating around here and making the rents so expensive for, you know, everyone else, probably similar to San Francisco in that way. But, um, yeah, no, I'd love to, you know, see how this evolves and see how this grows. And, um, definitely if there's any opportunity for people in the community to get involved, um, you know, try out the tool, is there, is there a free option for people to go and have a play and have, uh, have an explore of the, of the product?

[00:33:56] Loren Baxter: Yeah, you can sign up for Felt for free. You play with a ton of the [00:34:00] features, some of the like really fancy spatial transformations and stuff that like, you know, usually you need a GIS degree to kind of know about, uh, would be behind a paid plan, but, you You know, folks like you and I, it's really dead simple to get in there and make a map and it's, and it's free.

[00:34:14] Loren Baxter: Um, we're always going to have, you know, a free personal tier, you know, really where we see, um, the, the seam for payment, right. Is when people are using it professionally, you know, in an organization that has like budget. Right. But if you're making something for a hiking trip or road trip, you know, that's the kind of stuff that we want everyone to be able to do for free.

[00:34:34] Gerry Scullion: One of the things I get all the time, Loren, is. You know, because I interview a lot of people on the podcast, people kind of go, Hey, I have a friend coming to Dublin. Can you recommend somewhere that is not too expensive, but they also want a place that's in proximity to the museum? And I'm like, all right, usually I end up writing a bit long email, but with something like this, I could probably weave a loom together with a demonstration [00:35:00] or potentially a couple of links to a map and saying, Hey, let's look, go to the coffee shop.

[00:35:05] Gerry Scullion: This is where it is. And this is where I, I sort of, I see the value in, in what you're doing with it at the moment. So, um, I wish you the very best of luck with it. I think it's anything that, you know, kind of pushes the boundaries and creates greater sense of alignment and purpose can only be a good thing.

[00:35:23] Gerry Scullion: Um, and I've been trying to, you know, check myself and saying, is there anything that I can just question around the ethics of this? But I think it's just. You've covered off all the main points. I'm sure people listening have got questions for you. What's the best way for people to reach out and connect with you directly, Loren?

[00:35:41] Loren Baxter: Yeah, you can find me at, um, at Loren Baxter on, I'm always going to call it Twitter forever. Uh, that's L O R E N B A X T E R. Um, and I'm on threads and you know, yeah, you can find me anywhere on the internet. I love chatting with folks. So, um, please do reach out.

[00:35:56] Gerry Scullion: I'll put a link to your LinkedIn as well in there, cause it seems to be one [00:36:00] of the most popular places for our listeners to connect with people.

[00:36:02] Loren Baxter: Yeah, absolutely. I'll

[00:36:03] Gerry Scullion: throw a link to Felt, of course, in there as well. So folks, if you are interested in this space and wanting to learn a little bit more around great maps, just click on the link in the show notes, or if you're watching this on YouTube, it's in the description. Loren, thanks so much for everything and getting up early.

[00:36:18] Gerry Scullion: I know you're in San Francisco, so you had to get up super early to chat to me. I really, really appreciate it. So thanks so much.

[00:36:24] Loren Baxter: Thank you for having me. It's been great chatting with you. And yeah, I'm excited to come visit you in Dublin and have you show me all the greatest spots. Next

[00:36:31] Gerry Scullion: week. See you next week.

[00:36:32] Gerry Scullion: Okay. Right. So book a flight and you'll be here next week.

[00:36:36] Loren Baxter: Thanks, Derek. I appreciate it.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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