The relationship between Cantiere Creativo and the Uffizi Galleries was born three years ago now, with the complex and satisfying work that we are carrying out on the websites of the museum complex. During a workshop with the team, we found ourselves considering the idea of a series of paper maps to accompany our work on web properties. We were curious to see if it was possible to translate our experience in UX and digital usability into a completely physical context, attempting to combine stylistic and graphic attention with good readability.


The project of the maps of the Boboli Gardens was born thanks to the experience and competence of the Administration of the Uffizi Galleries, which provided Cantiere Creativo with all the information necessary to carry out the preliminary works, as well as supporting us in all subsequent phases to ensure that they respected their directives and the results were in line with visitors' expectations. It was the Administration itself that explained to us the need to improve the visitor experience starting from a map that was able to offer clear and captivating answers to two constant challenges in the effective representation of space. The first challenge was to effectively represent the particular shape of the garden, offering a realistic idea of the various slopes within it, so that all guests could choose the route best suited to their physical needs. Many visitors do not realize the distances to cover and end up giving up on their walks, especially on sunny days, having to face climbs they were not expecting. The second challenge was to make the visit more enjoyable by offering clear and defined routes, designed for every type of user, including people with mobility difficulties for whom a route without significant slopes had to be outlined. Obviously the map also had to respond to the best user experience practices, as well as providing all the useful information on the spaces, services and points of interest not to be missed, as well as the temporary exhibitions in progress. It involved a considerable amount of information to be made visually coherent and easy to read in a paper brochure to be delivered to all museum ticket offices after purchasing admission.

The first steps

We started from the satellite images of Google maps and the historical cartography of the garden to begin to familiarize ourselves with the specific characteristics of the spaces, followed by visits and field experiments to make the spaces intimately ours. Only as a second step did we create and graphically elaborate the first map, precisely reconstructing the morphology of the garden, the differences in height, the main roads and paths, green spaces and points of interest.

An aerial view of the grounds of the Boboli Gardens and a vintage map

Slopes at a glance

Offering a clear idea of the slopes within the Boboli Gardens was truly the biggest challenge ahead of us. To solve it, we thought of a map that illustrated at a glance the difference in altitude of the various areas, which start from a minimum of 50 meters up to altitudes of 130 metres. In this way the visitor would immediately have a realistic overview of the spaces, thus being able to choose where to go according to his abilities and inclinations.

Drawing this first map proved to be a difficult process, full of trial and error. The complexity was hidden in the need to simultaneously show the slope that goes from Palazzo Pitti up to the Palazzina dei Cavalieri, on the left side, and that which starts from the Vasca dell'Isola and ends at the Vasca del Nettuno, therefore from right to left. In the gif Part of the long graphical process is shown below:

A map to navigate

The main map is found inside the brochure and is a two-dimensional overhead view of the entire garden, onto which we have added simplified vector illustrations of the most important architectural monuments and works of art. The aim was to create simple graphics that were immediately usable for the visitor. The map suggests three types of routes: full (in pink), fast (in yellow), and easy (in blue). The last one is designed especially for people with limited motor skills. The map also indicates the most pronounced differences in height with black lines formed by triangles, while the structures and services are marked with a customized set of icons. The four entrances to the garden, as well as the points of interest, are indicated with numbered red dots, unlike the temporary exhibitions shown with equally numbered white dots. The main roads are displayed with thick light lines, capable of immediately attracting attention, while the paths are marked in dark green with a finer dotted line.

This map also required in-depth study to find the best method to represent its routes without weighing it down. Our first approach was to create a map designed just for this purpose. It was a simplification of the flat map, which highlighted exclusively the three different routes; for the rendering we took inspiration from typical metro maps.

We really liked the result, but how to insert it into a brochure with already two maps? For a visitor, having to move around three different maps was starting to become really inconvenient. In the end we managed to insert the routes into the flat map, in order to offer people all the relevant information in the same place.

An illustration for each monument

Before starting to work on the monuments, we asked ourselves: how to maintain their recognizability without sacrificing the readability of the map? The main aim was to offer visitors an idea of what to visit inside the garden, without ruining the readability and fluidity of the map. For this reason we decided not to use photographs to make it lighter and simplify reading, creating a vector illustration for each important monument, similar to a sort of icon. An in-depth study of shape and color was carried out, starting from the real images and working by subtraction until the final result.

The first illustrations made, although very beautiful and elegant, did not work in print: too many details made the map difficult to read. We had to do a simplification job, trying to highlight the essential aspects of each monument, without losing sight of their essence. An example of this process can be seen in the work done for Palazzo

Clear and legible prohibitions
As a large public space, occupying an area of approximately 45,000 m², visitors must respect certain rules in the garden to ensure that everything remains as perfect as they found it.

The first approach we considered was to make the rules a visually engaging and playful experience, to make respect for shared spaces a pleasure and not an imposition. We really liked the final solution on a graphic level, but we realized that using too much lightness could have the opposite effect to the desired one, i.e. effectively communicating the prohibitions and making them respected.

Another problem, and perhaps the main one, is the fact that the Garden is home to hundreds of people from different countries and cultures; the need to have an international language was more important than working on a fun or engaging design. Therefore we have designed clear and linear symbols, easy to read for any person, no matter what their nationality or cultural background.

The final result
The brochure contains all the information relating to the Garden: an introduction to its history, opening hours and ticket prices, and all the rules to be followed by visitors. There is also an additional map that shows the position of the Garden in relation to the rest of the historic center of Florence and explains how to reach the other museums that form the Uffizi Galleries complex.

How is the map made?
Dimensions: The open map is an A2, then folded twice crosswise leaving a final closed format equal to an A5 sheet. Paper: All maps are printed on 100% recycled paper. This decision was proposed from the beginning of the project and supported collectively by the entire Uffizi team, especially by director Schmidt. Despite knowing that the costs would be higher than average, the director was aware of the environmental impact and preferred to help reduce the environmental footprint of the product as much as possible.

Next Steps
In parallel with the work on the Boboli maps we are preparing the maps for the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi Galleries. It is a completely different challenge because it takes place inside a palace, there are no streets but corridors, there are no green spaces but halls, and instead of architectural monuments we have to do justice to Renaissance masterpieces. The itineraries designed for the Uffizi are designed to offer each visitor, depending on their time availability, an incredible experience of total immersion in one of the most flourishing periods in the history of art. The work on the Boboli maps also provided us with ideas for expanding the offer for the Garden. The study we carried out on its spaces and its peculiar conformation of the land would also be extraordinarily translatable into an intelligent signage project, a true Wayfinding work that reinforces the work carried out on the maps to give visitors in situ indications of where to go, the travel times between points of interest, slopes, as well as a real system of signals graphically consistent with the maps. Alongside the work in the physical world, it would be a great opportunity to enrich the digital experience with an interactive map. It would be a fully explorable virtual space, so that the visitor can enjoy updated information on any device he wants to use. The information architecture would pass through DatoCMS, so all the content would be centralized. This would allow all experiences to be updated simultaneously, from the app to any VR experiences, with just one click. This would also apply to the paper version: imagine for example the temporary exhibitions which, updated on an app, would also be synchronized in the print file for the paper version.

Special thanks
The support of the entire Uffizi Galleries team was fundamental during all phases of the project, and in particular the architect Antonio Godoli, together with Bianca Maria Landi, Angela Pintore, Maria Spanò and Andrea Biotti, who directed us towards the ideal solutions for the specific use case of the Garden, always proving available to clarify all our doubts. Together with them, we must thank director Eike Schmidt for the trust placed in us in entrusting us with this important task.