UX Week Keynote Speaker Ken Jennings on Maps and Design

When Ken Jennings stepped onto the stage of the game show Jeopardy! back in 2004, he was a humble software engineer from Salt Lake City. 74 wins later, he stepped off that stage as the winningest contestant in game show history. Since then, Jennings has continued to indulge his interest in esoteric knowledge of all kinds as an author and columnist. One of his books, Maphead, digs into the world of maps and map enthusiasts, looking at the past, present, and future of maps as a fundamental part of human experience. In this interview, I talk with Ken about the connections between the ideas in his book and the concerns of designers, and get a preview of what he’ll be talking about in his keynote at UX Week 2014 in San Francisco this September. Jesse James Garrett: To start things off, let’s briefly introduce people to your book Maphead and what it’s all about. Ken Jennings: So when I was a kid I was obsessed with maps and geography. I was very aware that this was super weird, that I lived in a culture where America famously didn’t know where anything was and people thought maps were confusing and bad and you only looked at them when you were lost. So I felt very odd that I could read a road atlas for pleasure the way a normal kid would read a Hardy Boys book. I found myself thinking many years later, “What’s up with that? Why was I such a weird kid? Were there other people like me out there?” So I wrote this book called Maphead about...