Put your best thumbnail forward (redux)

Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference, and they are often easy to overlook. A map recently authored by ArcWatch_Maps generated a bunch of questions about how to add interesting and expressive thumbnails for your ArcGIS Online web maps and other shared items. So we thought we’d revisit how you can create these yourself, and highlight some approaches that you might consider.

Here’s the item thumbnail that generated the questions. Not only is the thumbnail visually appealing, but when combined with the title begs you to explore the map:

We covered some of the considerations and techniques for thumbnails in a previous blog post but we’ll review them again in this post.

The default thumbnail is usually perfectly adequate, but you can always improve on it if you like and add your own “branding” or other special graphics to help distinguish it from others. Custom thumbnails can help users understand what to expect in the map, help identify your organization, or simply enhance the visual appeal of your shared items.

To change the thumbnail for your map, first create a new one using any graphics program. For best results size the graphic at 200 pixels by 133 pixels, and save it as a PNG, JPEG, or GIF. To replace the default thumbnail go to your item details, click edit, then follow the instructions to click the thumbnail to enable browsing to your replacement graphic.

Here are some interesting examples that provide a judge-the-book-by-the-cover approach to item thumbnails. We’ll begin with several that provide context for the geographic location of the map.

From left to right, the first is obviously a map of Utah, the second covers world content, and the third is a map of Melbourne. Each of these thumbnails provides an obvious reference to the geographic context of the map which helps the user anticipate what they will see.

Thumbnails can also provide context for what data might be presented. Below on the left we can expect something like a zoning or landuse map, in the middle we see a route and might expect something related to transportation, and viewing the thumbnail on the right we might expect a geologic map, or something along those lines.

Other thumbnails provide context to what additional tools or capabilities the map or application might include. Below on the left we have a thumbnail that shows an Explorer Online dashboard with a couple of gadgets. In the middle we see an application that compares three different maps (one of the template applications available on the map viewer’s app template gallery). And on the right we see a thumbnail that indicates that the map is time aware, and therefore we might expect to see a time slider when the map is opened.

Sometimes thumbnails provide a visual queue to the content source we find within them. All are obvious below from the graphic that has been used.

Other thumbnails take a more abstract approach. The thumbnail on the left is for a map about a family cycling event in San Antonio. The others seem obvious as to their content.

An interesting and useful thumbnail concept is branding. Each map below employs a visual brand which provides a queue for the authoritative source for the map. On the left the thumbnail uses a standard logo from the City of Greenville, South Carolina. On the right the thumbnail uses the Virginia Beach City logo. The middle logo is quite obvious – do you prefer to see geographic context along with the thumbnail, or is the brand logo sufficient?

Each of these approaches provides some food for thought when it comes to adding custom thumbnails to your ArcGIS Online items. It’s a small, but yet important detail that is often overlooked. It only takes a few minutes to come up with a thumbnail that trumps the default, and the reflection on you and your organization is likely worth the additional effort.

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