Who is going to use your GIS? Three types of people, so you better figure them out!

Hey there everyone!

I love geographic information systems, and if you are reading these words, I hope you do as well!

One measure of success in my GIS is how many people use it and love it. Love might seem a little bit of a strong word but something special happens when people say “Hey, I really understand what is going on” or “Thanks for making your maps easy to use”.

Free PDF provided at the end to help you out!

The ideas that I am going to share with you in this post will not only make people extremely happy with your GIS, the ideas will also increase the value and impact of your GIS on the world.

The way to have other people use and love your GIS is to get out of your own bubble. As GIS people, we tend to stay inside our minds. We know our GIS inside and out, we may have even coded every single line of every single tool in our code libraries.

We have to take a step back and have a look at our GIS from a different point of view. Three points of view actually.

Three use types, with the first one being the most important.

As part of “Building a Bulletproof GIS” I am going to introduce you to the three types of people that will use your GIS. To be 10 times more effective in your GIS you have to take into consideration each type of person when designing your GIS.

You have to learn to speak these types of users language. You have to connect with them where they want to be connected with. You have to get in their minds, ask them questions, maybe even become them for a few days (if not longer) to really understand them.

These three types of people are going to be with you for your entire GIS career. People can shift between each type rapidly, but they each have distinctive needs depending on your GIS.

These three types of people are:

  1. Creators
  2. Viewers
  3. Field Workers

You as a geographic information professional need to understand each of these types of people as they related to your GIS.

I will explain each.


These are the people who can look at your features, shapefiles, folder structures, maps, layouts, projects and understand what is going on. They speak “GIS”, they know the technical terms, they know the jargon, they most likely have training in GIS.

Creators are people like you who know GIS lingo and can build their own GIS.
Creators are people like you who know GIS lingo and can build their own GIS.

Creates can to look at your GIS and say “Great, this person is competent” or “Good they planned ahead and don’t have 10 features named roads1 roads2 roads3”.  

Creators can be your colleagues, your subordinates GIS analysts, your direct superiors. They could be new hires.

Most of all, YOU are a creator.


Viewers want to understand very specific details about your data. They want to “click here” and information flows out. They want your data easy to understand, no matter how complex it actually is, no matter how long it took you to create or acquire. Their world is instant gratification.

Viewers want to understand your GIS instantly without any explanation or training.
Viewers want to understand your GIS instantly without any explanation or training.

They want to look at a map, a webpage, a graphic, a chart and say “It’s about Population” or “It’s about economic growth” or “It will take me 10 minutes to get there”.

Viewers don’t care how long you spent on your infographics. Again, they want instant gratification.

Viewers could be clients desiring updates, bosses wanting time motion analytics, the public looking at your volcano mapping.

Most of all, YOU are a viewer.


These are your crew on the ground using mobile apps to collect date or navigation. They could be using your hard-copy maps as backup. Field workers concern lies more in ease of use of your data and safety than what hue you picked for the red stop sign.

Field workers use your GIS in their daily activities and need it to function smoothly and safely.
Field workers use your GIS in their daily activities and need it to function smoothly and safely.

They don’t want complexity. If they are there for pipeline surveying, they want to see all things (but nothing more) important to pipeline surveying. If they are doing ecological work they want ecology features, and nothing more.

Field workers may be volunteers, surveyors, managers, or inspectors.

Most of all, YOU are a field worker.

To maximize your GIS effectiveness you need to understand these three user types with respect to your GIS.

I have provided a PDF below to help you understand the users of your GIS better.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check out my other links!

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