25th February 2009

- Cimex study finds fundamental flaws in UK Police crime maps which potentially undermine Government objectives.

One of the major initiatives from the Government’s 2008 policing green paper was the requirement for Police authorities around the UK to develop interactive crime maps deliverable by the end of 2008.

Top 50 digital agency, Cimex (www.cimex.com) has just completed a study to explore how well UK crime maps are serving the public and at which points users face the biggest obstacles in the data provided by the different police forces. The findings are alarming and reveal that, far from helping users, the current crop of crime maps is in fact leaving us more bewildered and confused than before.

From the study Cimex’s User Experience team (http://www.cimex.com/user-experience/ ) has discovered that police authorities may be failing to meet Government objectives; to help communities see where crime is happening; to make comparisons between areas or time frames; and to understand how we can all help the police to reduce crime where we live.

A spokesperson from Cimex’s UX team explains: “The government wants the public to work in partnership with the police but in our study we found that crime maps may in fact be damaging this relationship. Where crime maps are not effective at telling us clearly and easily about crime in our area the lack of perceived transparency may actually be counter-productive. Instead of increasing public confidence, certain police authorities may be exacerbating trust issues.”

Cimex looked at a number of police authority sites including Beat Crime (West Yorkshire Police Authority), MyNeighbourhood (West Midlands Police), GMP (Greater Manchester Police), and Crime Mapping (Metropolitan Police). In order to compare these sites to non-governmental websites, the User Experience team also looked at UpMyStreet (a site providing general statistics and other local information) and Everyblock, which covers crimes rates for the US city of Chicago.

“Although on each site crime statistics were available in one format or another, extracting the relevant information was often a confusing experience.” explains a member of the UX team. "Users face various barriers that make navigating unnecessarily difficult for them, often to the point of frustration."

The main problems users faced on the different websites were:

• Information overload and sites with too many details
• Colour coded maps or graphs that did not match
• Overcomplicated navigation & highly inconsistent wording
• Lack of interactivity in maps (whether for area selection or crime rates)
• Insufficient filters for users to narrow down the information
• Unclear time periods or missing points of reference
• Lack of comparison options that put the data into a meaningful context

Cimex’s UX spokesperson continues: “Generally crime maps were found to be confusing and lacking the interactivity that was one of their key objectives. These maps are supposed to be reassuring but we found them to be too unclear and lacking professionalism to the point of users doubting the websites’ credibility.”

When purely looking at the ease of use, the site that performed the best was not a police authority site or even a crime map, but the UpMyStreet website which presented its data in a table. The google-based crime map of the Metropolitan Police was also scored well due to its visual attractiveness and user engagement.

Based on their user testing, Cimex has a number of recommendations from the study that will help police authorities to bring clarity to this complex subject, making it more accessible to the public, just as the government intended.

• Maps need to be informative and should be colour coded in a meaningful way.
• Maps and data should be connected to allow users to verify data and build trust.
• Users like to compare and require points of reference such as national averages, neighbouring areas or previous time periods.
• Interactivity enhances the user experience and should help users filter the information according to their preferences.

“Crime mapping has the potential to be a very cohesive tool for communities across the UK. However, the execution and communication of data that are meaningful to citizens is currently lacking and a complete turn off. The police authorities need to improve the way they provide this kind of information for crime mapping to evolve successfully,” Cimex’s UX team concludes.

For press information contact Juliet Bernard Juliet@bluebear.co.uk

Notes to Editors

1. Cimex’s specialist User Experience team carried out the in depth study with 6 respondents in 90 minute one-on-one sessions in the specialised usability labs at Cimex, including eye-tracking and think-aloud tasks.

The Process was as follows

Pre-session interview - Use & knowledge of online - and crime maps

Eye- tracking task - Testing time performance & areas of attention

Think-aloud task - Scenario driven task for interacting with the site

Design - Comparison of sites' effectiveness, preferences

Post-session interview - Alternative applications, comments & feedback

2. Main research questions included:

Which elements of the sites are (not) working well?
What are problems or barriers?
On which sites do users perform best/worst?
How do they rate the design?
What are user interests and possible applications?


Published on: 5:18AM on 25th February 2009