First impressions are very important in life – whether it’s on a first date or when you visit a website. We’re visually oriented, so why would you leave a thumbnail like this as your first impression?
Or like this one?
Now if your goal is to make people less interested in what you’ve shared, then congratulations, you’ve succeeded.
But for most of us, we’re representing an organization, a business, or presenting our GIS tradecraft, so first impressions count.
I will be the first to admit that I am not a graphics designer, but I do know a good thumbnail when I see one. And it’s really easy to change your thumbnail and visually impress potential users with an impression of “quality” rather than “junk.”
ArcGIS Online creates a default thumbnail automatically when you share a service or map, and often the default is just fine. But it can also be not quite as good as it should be. Recently, I added a wells service for an oil field in Wyoming, and the default thumbnail looked like this:
That’s obviously not a great thumbnail, so I decided I wanted to present the potential user with a better visual impression of what the data might look like, and also put it into a basemap context rather than just a white background. Here was my second iteration:
This was also a temporal service, so I decided to add a visual queue for that in my next iteration, which is the one I stuck with:
Putting some good thumbnails on shared items made for an appealing presentation when viewed in my group,and provided the visual impression of not only good content, but also content that others would be interested in using.
Something else I have noticed when cruising around ArcGIS Online is that some users are branding their shared items. As an example, Washington DC has branded all their shared items using a consistent thumbnail:
That’s a great technique, and there is no doubt about the authoritative source. But personally I like it when the thumbnail provides a preview of the data, giving me an impression of what to expect. So here’s an example combining the two ideas. This first thumbnail is the default that was created, obviously not a good thumbnail:
I opened the map, zoomed in a bit, used a basemap that might highlight the features of interest better, and captured and saved it. Using a paint program I added the logo from DC to produce this alternative example of branding shown below:
Of the two above, it’s obvious which thumbnail presents the better impression of the content behind it. Of course there are many different variations and opportunities for creativity, so take a look at some of the ones already published and see which you find appealing – those are probably the examples you should emulate.
My tip: When the default thumbnail isn’t to my liking, I open my map or layer and zoom to an interesting area, capture the map, and paste it into a paint program. I use Snagit or Photoshop, but anything will do. I always crop my thumbnail to the correct size – 200px by 133px – before saving it out and then adding it to my shared item. And for adding graphics or text, I use PowerPoint to make the composite, then copy and paste that into a paint program before cropping to 200 by 133px. Why PowerPoint? For no other reason than it’s handy, and I use it all the time anyway.
Life’s too short for ugly thumbnails, so put your best thumbnail forward!